By Andrew Staub | PA Independent
HARRISBURG, Pa. — State Sen. Scott Wagner complained Monday that “paycheck protection” legislation isn’t getting the attention it deserves.
That could change this week, as advocates of the legislation take to the Senate floor, the silver screen and the Capitol to argue Pennsylvania shouldn’t collect dues, fair share fees and political money for public-sector unions.
“We can’t collect money for the NRA, Americans for Tax reform, our own re-election campaigns or any other political effort using [a] public employee payroll system,” Wagner, R-York, said, “and unions should not be allowed to engage in this activity that flies in the face of our laws, either.”
Wagner has some backup coming.
The political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity has planned a Wednesday rally at the Capitol, with conservative columnist Michelle Malkin expected to attend.
The Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank based in Harrisburg, has also started airing commercials in Philadelphia calling attention to the paycheck protection issue.
It’s no coincidence the full-court press on paycheck protection is happening while lawmakers navigate the annual June budget scramble.
“This is typically when stuff happens and gets passed,” said Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation.
This year, conservatives are hoping that means paycheck protection, which Benefield said could impact pension reform and liquor privatization, given the unions’ lobbying campaigns against them.
Bills in both the state Senate and House would end the automatic deductions. The House State Government committee will conduct a public hearing on the legislation Thursday, drawing more attention to the issue.
State Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, sponsor of the House bill, has painted it as a good-government initiative that’s necessary in the wake of scandals in which taxpayer resources were used for political purposes. To him, it’s more about ethics than the relatively minor costs associated with the deductions.
Still, Kevin Shivers, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said eliminating even the small expense of an “unnecessary function of government” would be a victory during a difficult budget season.
“Every journey begins with the first step,” Shivers said, including paycheck protection with pension and liquor privatization as three items he believes the Legislature must address.
Unions have vehemently opposed the legislation, saying it’s less about good government practices and more about shutting out the voice of organized labor. David Fillman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13, has called it “vindictive, just ‘get-the-union’” legislation.
Wendell Young IV, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, echoed that thought. He said paycheck protection supporters are painting an inaccurate picture that union members have no say when they have democratic control through the election of leaders, who determine how money is spent.
“That’s not the Commonwealth Foundation’s business, just like it’s not my business how the Commonwealth Foundation decides to spend its money,” Young said.
While Young worries about the possibility of the legislation passing, Cutler has said he’s open to finding a “reasonable middle ground.” In the meantime, there’s likely to be more union lobbying and speeches like Wagner’s.
While making his remarks, Wagner held up an edition of The Voice for Education, a Pennsylvania State Education Association publication. That particular issue, Wagner said, included endorsements for state Treasurer Rob McCord, who finished third in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
“As anyone can plainly see, this is a blatantly political publication advocating the defeat of our governor, and it is being paid for with money that we are collecting,” Wagner said of the teacher’s union magazine.
A PSEA spokesman didn’t return phone messages seeking comment.
Staub can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.