03.08.2011 0

Gov. Riley’s Ban on Union Payroll Deductions in Alabama Should Inspire Other “Right to Work” States

By Kevin Mooney — Just before he left office in January, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, signed off on legislation that outlawed automatic payroll deductions for union dues. Although the on-going protests in Madison, Wisconsin and Trenton, N.J. have largely overshadowed Riley’s actions, he has dealt a decisive blow to the power of public sector unions.

In fact, some Republican insiders are now urging the former Alabama governor to consider a presidential bid. Whatever the merits of his potentially candidacy, Riley’s policy changes are likely to have long-term ramifications and deserve the attention and consideration of lawmakers in other states. At the very least, the changes are sure to curtail the political power of the Alabama Education Association (AEA).

Riley has argued that is improper to use state resources for political purposes. The AEA, spent over $8.6 million in the 2010 election cycle with the bulk of that money going to Democratic candidates. AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert views the legislation as a retaliatory measure against his organization. Until recently, Hubbert also served as the vice-chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Prior to the change, over 90,000 Alabama teachers have had their union dues and, in most instances, money set aside for the union’s political action committee, deducted from their government paychecks.  Under the bill, some payroll deductions for AEA remain permissible, but not for AEA’s political action committee (PAC), A-Vote, short for Alabama Voice of Teachers for Education. A-VOTE is the conduit Alabama teachers have used to raise and distribute money to political candidates.

After the Republicans took control of the state legislature for the first time in 136 years, Riley called for a special session to pass seven ethics and campaign finance bills Democrats blocked when they were in control. Republicans prevailed over a 15-hour filibuster in the House to pass the bill that ends paycheck deductions for campaign contributions and union membership dues applied toward political activities.

“This is a new era of accountability for our state,” Governor Riley said after the legislation passed. “It is a sea change in attitude about reform, transparency and openness in government. This special session was all about giving the people of Alabama the type of government they deserve but were always denied because of politics. Now, because of these landmark reforms, state and local governments in Alabama will operate more honestly, more openly and with more accountability than ever before. Government will be more responsive to the needs of our citizens and less beholden to the wants of special interests.”

The new set of laws is expansive.

They include the ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers, and put the first-ever limits on what lobbyists and those who hire lobbyists can then invest into public officials. They also provide the Alabama Ethics Commission with subpoena power, ban pass-through pork spending and double dipping by legislators, end taxpayer funding of political activity for special interest groups, and require lobbyists who lobby the executive branch to register and file disclosures.

Elected officials in other “Right to Work” states should follow the example set by former Gov. Riley. Despite protections that exist against forced unionization, their taxpayers are not immune to the demands and costs of the public sector. If governors, like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Chris Christie in N.J., can take a firm stand in areas of the country that are more unionized, what is the excuse for elected officials in “Right to Work” states for timidity?

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