The union role in our growing taxocracy

Larry Sand

Unions, which are tax-exempt, see to it that the rest of us pay and pay and….

Tax Freedom Day  is the day when our government has taken enough of workers’ income to satisfy its tax lust for the year. TFD, which differs from year to year, is determined by taking all federal, state, and local taxes – individual, payroll, sales and excise, corporate and property taxes – and dividing the total by the nation’s income. According to the Tax Foundation, Americans will pay $3.5 trillion in federal taxes and $1.6 trillion in state and local taxes, for a total tax bill of $5.1 trillion, or 31 percent of national income in 2017.

In 1900, Tax Freedom Day was January 22nd, but is now April 23rd. This date is a national average; in some states it’s earlier and others later due to varying state taxes. So while #1 Mississippi celebrates TFD on April 5th, #50 Connecticut’s citizens don’t stop forking over their income to the government until May 21st. At that time, workers can get to keep the money they earned. (The unions, of course, don’t have to be concerned with TFD. Nationwide, they take in about $14 billion yearly, frequently by force, and don’t have to pay a penny in tax. As 501(c)(5)s, the unions have a special tax exempt status with the IRS that is accorded to Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.)

When comparing the TFD map and a National Right to Work map, it becomes apparent that states with powerful public employee unions (notably the teacher union variety) and later TFD dates closely correlate.

One way that states with strong teachers unions cost taxpayers big bucks are Byzantine dismissal statutes which enable many teachers, who should have been fired long ago, to remain on the payroll. Two recent cases in New York bring this taxpayer theft to light. Osman Couey, a teacher in a New York City public school was sent to prison for shoving a 7-year-old special education student. Even though a judge sentenced him to 30 days behind bars, Couey is still collecting his six-figure salary and racking up pension time. In NY, you see, it is easier to put a teacher in prison than to fire him. Even more scandalous, English teacher Dean Bethea, who tried to kiss a 16 year-old student after giving her alcohol in December 2015, is now serving four months in jail. This pervert is also still on the payroll.

These cases are not isolated. Hundreds of teachers sit in so-called rubber rooms in New York City, playing cards, video games, whatever, collecting their salaries, maintaining their healthcare benefits and adding dollars to their defined benefit pensions. They can’t be in the classroom, but because of powerful local and state teachers unions, it is virtually impossible to fire them. For the record, New York’s TFD is May 11th, #48 in the U.S.

Another way that unions stick it to taxpayers is with “release time,” a practice that is rampant across the US, allowing public employees – frequently teachers – to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay. These activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and conferences. In Pennsylvania, State Sen. Patrick Stefano has introduced a bill to end the gravy train for so-called “ghost teachers,” rightfully claiming that they receive taxpayer-funded salaries, health benefits and pensions while not teaching. Stefano said, “This should not be allowed or tolerated because it is a blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars and drains money and resources away from our classrooms and our students.”

In response, Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said, apparently with a straight face, “The work the union does – empowering teachers and giving them the tools and resources to do their jobs better – ultimately benefits students.” (And if you believe that, I have some lovely beachfront property in Death Valley for your consideration.) In Jersey City, NJ, the Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit in January targeting the public-school district for its policy allowing two teachers to devote all their time to teacher union activities. The litigation could put an end to this rather egregious type of taxpayer theft in Jersey City and ultimately elsewhere in the Garden State. (Pennsylvania’s TFD is April 23rd, #32 in U.S. and New Jersey’s TFD is May 13th, #49.)

In California, now more Beholden than Golden, things are out of control. Courtesy of the public employee unions and their legislative puppets in Sacramento, California is mired in debt.  In 2015, Pew Charitable Trusts reported that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the State Teachers’ Retirement System had just 74 percent of what they needed to meet pension obligations. But, as Dan Walters points out, that ratio has fallen to just 64 percent due to reductions in projected investment earnings, which are still unrealistically high. While employees’ contributions to their own retirement will undoubtedly rise, future generations of taxpayers will be forced to make up much of the shortfall.

In Los Angeles, the situation is truly dire. The LA school district is facing a budget deficit that will rise to nearly 500 million dollars by 2020, primarily due to increased pension and healthcare costs. As Sara Favot writes in LA School Report, “In 2013-14, the district paid $2,621 from its state funding of $9,788 for average daily attendance per student (or 27 percent) for all employee benefits, including health and welfare, other post-employment benefits and pension benefits (19.4 percent higher than the statewide average).” The irony here is that the union crowd which keeps demanding higher salaries, smaller class sizes and hiring more teachers can’t have these things because at the same time they refuse to give up any of their extravagant, greedy, budget-busting perks.

California’s TFD is #46 in the nation, and very coincidentally fell on May 1st this year. May 1st, aka May Day, International Workers’ Day, and “Oh, you don’t get me, I’m part of the union” Day, saw many unionized workers across California ditch their jobs to promote various socialist causes. I guess the protestors haven’t got the message yet that, at least as far as public employee unions go, every day is May Day and will remain that way until there is a serious taxpayer revolt, or the whole system finally collapses. The Golden (State) Goose is in critical condition.

No matter what, it ain’t gonna be pretty.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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