By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog
The attempted Wisconsin recall stands at the forefront of many minds. Gov. Scott Walker’s cost-saving, collective bargaining reforms have almost completely disappeared from his opponents’ political rhetoric.
But the Badger State and the nation wouldn’t have reached this unusual electoral step if the governor hadn’t fearlessly taken on special interest government employee union privilege. None left a deeper scar than the move to stop automatic dues collection by government agencies, as declining voluntary union membership has shown.
While Walker put the issue in the national limelight, Colorado voters were confronted with the option to end the unethical cycle of dues collection and political influence. Unfortunately, millions of dollars of Big Labor cash — mostly from outside Colorado — confused and dissuaded voters from approving Amendment 49.
Yet the potential for corruption and conflicted interests lives on. Most local government agencies continue to act as bag man for organized labor. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the service of teachers unions, which alone fronted a full third of the anti-Amendment 49 campaign cash. The conservative school board reformers in Douglas County, Colorado’s third-largest school district, boldly have proposed ending the privilege. But they’re the exception, not the rule.
On the other hand, some Colorado school districts not only continue the practice but also try to hide it from public view. The 2010 Public School Financial Transparency Act requires regular posting of detailed expenditures. But one common monthly expenditure — in which school district payroll offices consolidate the dues withholdings from union members and send a payment to the local union — doesn’t always show up.
A 2011 Independence Institute report that rated local education agencies on how well they complied with the law uncovered this sticky problem. Officials for the 40,000-student Aurora Public Schools (APS) offered an explanation for failing to disclose the monthly dues payment to the union. They grabbed on to a loophole that the transaction was conducted by wire transfer and not by “check register” or “purchase card,” as the law requires.
Months later the lack of disclosure persists. APS continues not to report the expenditure to the union. And Colorado citizen watchdogs are left to wonder if it’s an isolated case of unwarranted secrecy. I know two of the state’s larger districts, Jefferson County and Boulder Valley, at least can admit they use taxpayer resources to transfer political funds and other dues money to a special interest labor organization. It’s time to dig a little deeper, and see how badly the State needs to close this unethical loophole.