Week in review: giving citizens a choice

Andy Matthews

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

Last week I shared with you the text of the testimony I gave on Senate Bill 302, which would establish Education Savings Accounts here in Nevada.

Earlier this week I was in Carson City, where I testified on Assembly Bill 280, Assemblyman Erv Nelson’s bill that would allow local governments to decide whether to bargain collectively with public employees. Under current law, collective bargaining is mandatory for local governments, and freeing up those local officials to make that call for themselves has been one of NPRI’s top legislative priorities during this year’s session.

What follows is the text of my testimony:

Mr. Chairman, Assemblymen and -women, my name is Andy Matthews, and I’m the president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. I want to thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of Assembly Bill 280, which would eliminate mandatory collective bargaining for local government entities in Nevada.

My organization has written at length about the enormous costs to taxpayers that result from laws that force governments to bargain collectively with public employees through their unions. In Nevada, we have found that collective bargaining produces an additional cost to taxpayers in the tens of millions of dollars annually — that’s the additional cost above and beyond what government would otherwise cost without collective bargaining in place. Nationally, the combined additional yearly cost to all state and local governments is approximately $100 billion.

At a time of serious fiscal and economic challenge, nationally but especially here in our state, this arrangement is one that we simply can no longer afford. The collective-bargaining process serves as a massive burden for local government officials who are charged with managing a city’s or county’s finances in a responsible way. But the consequences are not just seen on a balance sheet. They are felt by the citizens in our communities whose access to basic and legitimate public services becomes threatened, as policymakers are forced to choose between providing these services and meeting the ever-increasing demands of the public-sector unions.

This is a system that is highly expensive, insulated from accountability, and, quite frankly, no longer sustainable.

Opponents of this bill will claim that collective-bargaining laws are essential in order to protect government employees, and that this bill represents a draconian effort to trample the rights of workers. They would argue, and indeed often do argue, that if government lacks the funds to cover the financial obligations that collective bargaining creates, then the solution is simply to take more money from the private sector by way of tax increases.

All of this, of course, is just one front in the classic conservative vs. liberal, right vs. left debate that has been waged since long before any of us were here, and will be waged long after all of us are gone. It’s no secret where I and my colleagues at the Nevada Policy Research Institute stand in that debate.

The beauty of the bill before you is that it allows that debate to take place in local communities all across our state, rather than presume that Carson City ought to settle it for everybody. This bill, as you know, would not outlaw collective bargaining; it would merely empower each local government body to choose for itself whether or not to engage in the collective-bargaining process. This is important because it would give citizens a much stronger voice in how local fiscal affairs are conducted. If the residents of Elko or Reno or Las Vegas think that their local government employees ought to be able to negotiate under collective bargaining laws, then they can vote to elect officials who will implement that policy. Residents who feel otherwise can vote for candidates who pledge to do the opposite.

Again, it is my view and that of my NPRI colleagues that the collective bargaining process does a tremendous disservice to the taxpayers who are ultimately forced to foot the bill for the resulting artificial increase in the cost of government. 

But the bottom line is that if this bill becomes law, citizens and policymakers in communities all across our state will be able to make that decision for themselves — they will finally have a choice in how to manage their fiscal affairs, and can select the approach that they believe will work best for them.

In that sense, this bill is not so much about identifying a particular solution to our mounting fiscal challenges, as it is about adhering to an important principle — giving more power to local communities and the individuals who comprise them. I want to thank Assemblyman Nelson for his bold leadership on this issue, and I hope you will all join him in supporting this bill. Thank you.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

Remember, if you'd like to receive the latest from NPRI, sign-up for our emails here.