Testimony on S. 1120 – Collective Bargaining for Law Enforcement in Idaho

Testimony on S. 1120 – Collective Bargaining for Law Enforcement in Idaho

Testimony by our Chief Operations Officer, Lance Christensen to the Idaho Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee (March 4, 2021)

Chair Patrick and honorable members of the committee,

My name is Lance Christensen of the California Policy Center. Though I’m coming to you virtually from Sacramento, I’m a product of 3 generations of dry farmers from Arimo. 

I want to thank the brave men and women who do so much to protect and serve the great people of Idaho.

Yet, I bring you a warning from California regarding widespread adoption of collective bargaining in S 1120 that I hope you’ll seriously consider. 

Despite being well-intended, how exactly did collective bargaining adopted 45 years ago help California? It didn’t. It instead created stark divisions between public safety officers and taxpayers and intensified and exacerbated fiscal battles between jurisdictions dramatically.

From an outsider’s perspective, I envy the relative peace and safety, as well as the low cost of living, you enjoy. So do many of your new neighbors, tens of thousands of former Californians fleeing the once Golden State ironically after retiring from a government job they collectively bargained.

I wouldn’t think that you want to further Californicate your Idaho.

I recognize that you already have a few jurisdictions with some form of collective bargaining, but taking it statewide has perverse and unintended consequences which leverages and pits cities, counties and the state against each other. 

Twenty years ago, the California state legislature passed SB 400, instituting the 3 percent at 50 rule for law enforcement pensioners. As noted by veteran investigative reporter, Ed Mendel, “SB 400, became infamous for driving up state employer costs and setting a generous Highway Patrol pension formula, widely adopted by local police and firefighters, that critics say is ‘unsustainable.’” Ask dozens of city leaders who are contemplating bankruptcy well before the pandemic if those agreements are still sustainable. All this while unfunded pension liabilities in California are estimated to be over a trillion – with a t – dollars right now and growing.

Fast forward another decade in the California Bay Area. The city of Vallejo went bankrupt. City leaders couldn’t negotiate the trade-off between unsustainable collectively bargained benefits and fewer police officers. “Service insolvency” took when they couldn’t retain a sufficient number of officers to adequately patrol their community. Fewer officers meant more overtime, intense stress that led to poorer decision-making at critical junctures and increased shootings. 

Collective bargaining grows the liability side of the balance sheet with unfunded pensions, increased litigation and insurance costs not to speak of decreased tax revenues as people flee dangerous cities. Look no further than San Francisco – a once great city of finance now disintegrating into a den of thieves even as crime, drugs and homelessness devastate the city despite thousands of highly compensated police officers. Los Angeles is no different. Is that what you want for Idaho cities and towns?

Union leaders often suggest that there are bright lines separating bargaining, lobbying and political campaigns, except that there are not. It’s all very fungible.

Further, the collective bargaining process for public safety officers increases the likelihood of losing a modicum of oversight that currently exists with your constituents allowing them to observe the bargaining process and comment on good faith negotiations. Once collective bargaining is the policy, transparency is fades away with public accountability. And forced union dues will pay for intense lobbying efforts and political campaigns at every level of government. You’ll soon wonder who’s actually watching the watchers. 

The United States Supreme Court decided in Janus no government employee can be compelled to be a member of a union against their will. In fact, any employee can leave their union and face no retribution while still maintaining all the rights and benefits they are entitled to. They do not need to try and make sure that they are distinguishing between the funds if they don’t pay union dues any longer.

In California, union leaders openly brag, “We have a unique power—we elect our bosses. It would be difficult to think of workers anywhere else who elect their bosses. We do. We must take advantage of it.” Former California State Senator John Moorlach or former Santa Ana City Councilor Ceci Iglesias can tell you how true that is after having millions of dollars in union dues dropped on their heads simply for voting against egregious contracts.

We need to protect the good people who do the dangerous jobs most people are not willing to take but with sensible negotiations by serious parties who understand the bottom line and can balance public safety needs for Idahoans, protect the law enforcement officers and avoid raising property taxes or going bankrupt in the meantime. 

Broad collective bargaining for law enforcement is a compromise you cannot afford. 

Thank you for your consideration. I’m happy to answer any questions.

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Lance Christensen is the Chief Operations Officer for the California Policy Center.

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