Once again, it seems the Star Tribune Editorial Board picks and chooses its facts when talking about the ratification of union state worker contracts (“With veto fight over, ratify state contracts,” Feb. 27). As chair of the Subcommittee on Employee Relations, I think Minnesotans need a clear and balanced picture.

Last fall, Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) failed to provide complete information about how these new contracts would fit within our already-enacted budget approved by legislators and the governor. This left the subcommittee with little option but to refuse to rubber-stamp $4.7 billion in new contracts.

State employee contracts are one of the biggest drivers of state government growth, and in the previous budget cycle, MMB underestimated the cost of Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) and AFSCME Council 5 contracts by an astounding $141 million.

As I stated in the Star Tribune last October, having a strong and capable public workforce is important, but so is protecting the taxpayers and ensuring that contract agreements fall within the parameters of the bipartisan budget signed into law.

MMB has since provided more numbers, but we are still waiting on some key requested information. While it may not make for interesting headlines in the media, our approach to these contract agreements has been driven by data — not politics.

And when we’re discussing data, I think it’s also important to acknowledge that these raises of 2 percent in the first year and 2.25 percent in the second year are only cost-of-living adjustments. On top of that, more than half of state employees (those who have not already hit the highest pay bracket) also receive step increases each year, which are around 2.7 percent for AFSCME and 3.6 percent for MAPE. When you combine it all, that comes to more than 4.7 percent per year for AFSCME and 5.6 percent per year for MAPE — well above the noted private-sector average wage increase of 3 percent.

Another point that must be made is that, with no evidence, the Editorial Board asserts that Republicans in the House have tied wage increases for state employees to some sort of political back-and-forth between the executive and legislative branches. That’s outrageous and simply not the case.

Last week, when the DFL made a motion to suspend the rules to take up union contracts on the House floor, every Republican voted in favor. What’s more, the DFL proposed ratifying only two of the contracts, but I moved an amendment that would ratify five, including AFSCME correctional officers, radio operators and middle management. We were willing to move forward on all of those contracts with some common-sense process improvements and reforms included.

Republicans wanted to strengthen legislative oversight by ending a policy that puts newly negotiated union contracts into effect after only 30 days if the subcommittee is unable to meet or ties a vote. Another key reform would separate insurance benefits from wage increases, protecting benefits for union workers and their families should contract negotiations stall in future budget years. And to stand up for union workers of all political backgrounds, we advanced a proposal to stop unions from forcing their members to pay for political spending with which they may disagree.

Unfortunately, the DFL decided to table the union contracts and stop progress on the bill after we put forward those measured amendments.

A strong state workforce is vital to the well-being of our state, but so is a limited state government that provides strong oversight and stands up for its citizens and taxpayers. My view has always been about good policy over politics, because the people of Minnesota come first.

 

Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, is a member of the Minnesota House (rep.marion.oneill@house.mn).