How much should taxpayers spend subsidizing political advocacy groups? If you answered “nothing,” you have more sense than the government.
Many public employers pay their employees to work for government unions instead of the taxpayers who pay their salaries while on the clock. They also collect dues for unions from employees’ paychecks. Both practices are a problem because tax dollars should not fund political organizations’ operational expenses.
Government unions are,
in the Supreme Court’s words
, inherently political. They exist to bargain over how the government operates and spends tax dollars. These are fundamentally political questions.
One notable debate, for example, is whether the government should adopt merit pay or continue to base pay on seniority. Government unions take sides in this debate and many others, pushing for contracts that reflect their preferences. In doing so, they are effectively acting as political advocacy groups.
Government union subsidies are abnormal. The government does not usually cover political groups’ operational costs. For example, states do not mail out
National Rifle Association
fundraisers. Nor do they pay the salaries of political parties’ employees.
Yet the federal government, along with most state and local governments, subsidizes government unions’ operational expenses. Many government employers use their payroll systems to collect union dues. This eliminates expenses unions would otherwise incur, such as credit card processing fees. Even more outrageous is the government’s practice of paying employees to work for unions while they’re on the clock. This lets unions avoid hiring paid representatives, instead forcing taxpayers to cover the cost. In fact, the federal government gives public unions more than
worth of employee time each year. That includes nearly 500 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees, including doctors, and nurses, who spend all their time doing union work.
“Taxpayer-funded union time” and payroll dues deductions
in state and local governments — even in conservative states. Miami-Dade County, Florida, pays its employees
$3 million a year
to do union work. Salt Lake City, Utah, gives unions at least
a year of city employees’ time. That is the equivalent of two and a half full-time employees.
These subsidies boost government unions’ political power. Each dollar spent on union operational costs frees up a dollar for politics and lobbying. That is one of the reasons government unions spend
But these subsidies are a poor use of the taxes Americans pay. Taxpayers should not subsidize one side of America’s political debates.
The Trump administration sought to curb these abuses. Former President Donald Trump signed
an executive order
limiting union time in the federal government. He put VA medical personnel back to work
. However, sanity did not last long in Washington. President Joe Biden
those directives shortly after taking office. His administration is even
VA unions for the tax dollars they lost during the Trump administration.
Fortunately, some states have more sense than the Beltway. Arizona
last year banning taxpayer-funded union time at the state and local government levels. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
ending payroll dues deductions and union time in K-12 education.
In Utah, legislation has been introduced to end both practices throughout the state. The bill, introduced by
state Rep. Jordan Teuscher, goes even further than the Florida proposals. It prohibits the state and all local governments from using tax dollars to subsidize union activities. It also requires unions to collect their own dues. If Teuscher’s bill becomes law, Utah’s government unions will pay their own expenses.
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Utah’s legislation is a good model for other states — and for the federal government. Government unions are political advocacy groups. They should pay their own bills instead of forcing the American taxpayers to cover them.
James Sherk is the former special assistant to the president for domestic policy on the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Donald Trump. He is the America First Policy Institute’s director of the Center for American Freedom.