Mayor Don Robart of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio is seeking to eliminate public sector unions. That is certainly a welcome event and hopefully the start of a major trend towards fiscal sanity in cities across the country.

I found out about Mayor Robart when someone sent a link to a blog journal called Smell the Change: Ohio Mayor Suggests It’s Time To Eliminate Public Sector Unions.

Here are some snips blog writer Doug Ross compiled from Mayor Robart’s annual State of the City Address.

…as we now know, the jobs creation promise of 2009 nationally has more closely resembled a nightmare. With unemployment a year ago at 8%, it is currently over 10% and since the signing of the stimulus bill, we have lost 2.8 million jobs. These job loss figures clearly have a direct effect on state and city budgets. Cuyahoga Falls is no exception. Cities essentially rely on two forms of revenue: property taxes and income taxes. In 2009, we saw both of these revenue sources decline.

In response to these significant drops in revenue, we mandated that the nonbargaining employees accept a wage freeze along with six furlough days. Additionally where applicable, we would cease the ability to sell back vacation and sick leave. I am proud of the AFSCME union which was the first union to step forward and agree to our proposal. Our Fire union, the UWUA electric union and finally the dispatchers, followed shortly. Unfortunately, we did not get concessions from the two police unions, which necessitated the loss of three patrolmen and a community service officer. Additionally, four sergeants were reduced to patrolman status.

In Cuyahoga Falls, we will be negotiating with all six of our public employee unions. We do not anticipate these negotiations will be easy, however, with a keen eye on fiscal responsibility, the administration will be resolute in its demands to lower expenses. And indeed, with payroll representing 75–80% of our general fund budget, the public sector unions are the obvious place to go.

Which brings up the question that I have raised in this forum in the past: Is it time to eliminate public sector unions?

The history of public sector unions goes back to 1962 when President John F. Kennedy signed executive order 10988 allowing unionization of the federal workforce. This changed everything in the American political system. President Kennedy’s order swung open the door for the unrelenting rise of the unionized public workforce in many states and cities.

And of course, 47 years ago, the American workforce landscape looked very different. As recently as 1980, there were more than twice as many private sector union members than there were public sectors. Today 51.4% of Americans 15.4 million [union] workers are employed by the government. This is the first time in American history that there are more public sector union members than there are private. So my question is, can we the taxpayers continue to afford this expense?

…As we can see from the desperate economic and fiscal woes of California, New Jersey, New York and other states with dominant public unions; this has become a major problem for the U.S. economy and smaller “d” democratic governance. The agenda for American political reform needs to include the breaking of public unions’ power to capture an even larger share of private income.

Thanks for those snips, Doug.

The real thanks however, go to Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart who had the courage to say what needs to be said. Every trend change starts with 1, a single person willing to do something different.

I am aware of no other mayors expressing those views. Moreover, Cuyahoga Falls, is a fair sized city, close to 50,000 in the last census. Good luck mayor, we wish you well.

Voters Say No To Tax Hikes In Colorado Springs

In Colorado Springs, Colorado City removes trash cans, streetlights to save cash.

If you come to a neighborhood park in Colorado Springs, plan on bringing your own trash bags. To save money, the city has removed the trash cans.

Need to catch a bus? Don’t try on evenings or weekends. The city has cut that service, too. And when the sun goes down, Colorado Springs is going to look a little bit dimmer. Crews are removing a third of the city’s streetlight to save money on electricity and light bulbs.

It’s not a new concept in Colorado Springs, touted on some Web sites as a “libertarian paradise.” The city’s garbage collection, zoo and philharmonic are all privately funded.

The city is even auctioning off its police helicopters on the Internet.

The problem with this response is stopping garbage collection in parks will not save much. The real meat on the bone is union wages and pensions. However, the fact that the city’s garbage collection, zoo and philharmonic are all privately funded is certainly welcome.

Colorado Springs needs to take the next step of privatizing the fire department, or better yet, going to a volunteer fire department.

Change Comes To Jersey City

In Hudson County New Jersey, Members of Jersey City MUA and Incinerator Authority have to start paying toward health insurance.

Members of the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority and Jersey City Incinerator Authority may have to start paying for their health benefits.

Councilman Steven Fulop tried to introduce ordinances Wednesday night that would have eliminated the benefits altogether, but failed to muster the necessary votes.

The council instead introduced a measure, backed by Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, that would limit health insurance to the member and eliminate family coverage.

The board members would also have to pay 20 percent of the cost of the premium. Currently, the agency foots the entire bill.

“This ordinance is a compromise ordinance in that it allows for a substantial savings while at the same time allowing the commissioners to pay a portion of their premium to maintain health coverage,” Healy said in a statement yesterday.

According to a memo Healy sent council members, Fulop’s proposal would have saved $287,569 and the “compromise ordinances” would save $155,294.

“It is absolutely shameful in a time when the lowest level city employees were laid off, they grant health benefits to politically connected cronies that the taxpayers fund,” Fulop said. “Most of the City Council and administration clearly do not understand how they are hurting the regular taxpayers.”

Fulop and Councilwoman Viola Richardson voted against Healy’s ordinances. Councilman Bill Gaughan abstained on the MUA vote since his daughter, Eileen, is chairwoman and Councilwoman Willie Flood abstained on the JCIA vote because her husband is chairman.

Councilman Steven Fulop had the right idea “eliminate the benefits altogether”. Notice the two complete wimps, Councilman Bill Gaughan and Councilwoman Willie Flood opting out of a vote, effectively preserving huge benefits for their daughter and husband respectively.

Nonetheless a change was made in the right direction. Expect to see similar changes elsewhere.

Atlanta Must Change Pension Approach

An editorial opinion in the Atlanta Journal Constitution says City must change pension approach.

A sobering report released last week by the pension reform panel convened by Mayor Kasim Reed clearly laid out the city’s red-ink problem.

In part, Atlanta’s payments toward pensions have risen 13 percent annually during the past decade. The city paid out $144 million for pensions last year, up 162 percent from 2001’s $55 million cost.

Worse yet, the gap between the funded and unfunded portions of the pension plans has grown 21 percent a year since 2001. That means the plans are now barely more than halfway funded. In 2001, 83 percent was covered.

For the sake of taxpayers, the city must choose quickly on how to climb out of its pension hole. Paying roughly 20 percent of the city’s general fund budget for pensions is simply not sustainable. Fixing the problem will require sacrifices from both the city and its public servants.

The big reforms should apply to non-vested current workers and future hires. That means a two-tier benefits system going forward.

That said, the city should also consider rolling back at least part of the formula changes that boosted pension costs in 2001 and 2005.

The Journal did not go far enough in its recommendations. However, the Journal did recognize the system is insolvent, in need of change, and its recommendation of a two-tiered pension system is a big step in the right direction if it happens.

Bob Dylan Revisited

In regards to public pensions, Bob Dylan was right, just 45 years early.

However, there is always change, something that Dylan recognized in his protest song
The Times They Are A-Changin’. Think about how attitudes towards Russia and China have changed and the pace of that change compared with technology changing. Technology changes orders of magnitudes faster than attitudes regarding unions and pensions.

Here is a pertinent verse to sing.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

— Bob Dylan

Inspiration and Composition

Inquiring minds might be interested in the Inspiration and Composition for the song.

Dylan appears to have written the song in September and October 1963. Dylan recalled writing the song as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for the moment.

Dylan critic Michael Gray called it “the archetypal protest song.” Gray commented, “Dylan’s aim was to ride upon the unvoiced sentiment of a mass public—to give that inchoate sentiment an anthem and give its clamour an outlet.

Literary critic Christopher Ricks suggests that the song transcends the political preoccupations of the time in which it was written. Ricks argues that Dylan is still performing the song, and when he sings “Your sons and your daughter/Are beyond your command”, he sings inescapably with the accents not of a son, no longer perhaps primarily a parent, but with the attitude of a grandfather.

Ricks concludes: “Once upon a time it may have been a matter of urging square people to accept the fact that their children were, you know, hippies. But the capacious urging could then come to mean that ex-hippie parents had better accept that their children look like becoming yuppies. And then Republicans…”

Less than a month after Dylan recorded the song, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. The next night, Dylan opened a concert with “The Times They Are a-Changin'”; he told biographer Anthony Scaduto: “I thought, ‘Wow, how can I open with that song? I’ll get rocks thrown at me.’ But I had to sing it, my whole concert takes off from there.

I found a You-Tube clip of Dylan singing The Times They Are A-Changin’.

Dylan is at some small obscure bar early in his career. It’s a great clip, well worth a play, and the play is free, just not embeddable.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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