For Immediate Release
Contact: Cindy Hamill
‘Transparency’ Governor Negotiates $3.8 Billion Contracts with Campaign Funders in Secret
Budget Secretary Evades Questions on Negotiations, Keeping Taxpayers in the Dark
March 17, 2015, HARRISBURG, Pa.— Imagine you’re looking for a new home. If your real estate agent picked a house, made an offer for an amount you couldn’t afford, and handed you a contract signed in your name before you even took a tour, you’d probably call a lawyer. What if you then discovered that your agent was close friends with the seller and stood to profit as the result of the sale?
That’s the situation taxpayers face as their agent, Gov. Wolf, negotiates government union contracts worth nearly $3.8 billion behind closed doors. Worse, those same unions were some of his largest campaign donors. This, after the governor himself criticized "back room deals that erode the public’s trust."
"As we speak, Governor Wolf is negotiating billions of our dollars with special interests who gave him millions for his campaign," commented Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation. "The appearance of a conflict of interest is inescapable. Just six of the sixteen government unions the governor is negotiating with contributed nearly $2.6 million to his gubernatorial campaign.
"Despite Wolf’s promise to be ‘a different kind of governor,’ the negotiating process remains shrouded in secrecy. Yet, Governor Wolf has an opportunity to follow through on his promises of transparency and ‘a government that works’ by opening these negotiations up to public scrutiny before these costly contracts are signed."
The 5 Largest Gov. Union Contracts Up for Renewal in 2015
1. AFSCME $2,225,662,344
2. SEIU 668 $726,716,160
3. SEIU Healthcare $121,577,320
4. UFCW 1776 $86,143,839
5. ISSU $54,464,761
Total (16) $3,377,325,106
Negotiations Shrouded in Secrecy
At Monday’s appropriations hearings, Sen. Mike Folmer asked Secretary of the Budget Randy Albright for details like the cost and timeframe of government union contract negotiations. Albright repeatedly evaded these questions, saying he was not at liberty to disclose this information.
"This exchange highlights the lack of transparency in the negotiating process. Pennsylvania law does not require contracts to be made public before or even after they are signed. Because the process is so opaque, taxpayers end up getting a bill before they have any idea what they’re buying.
"Posting collective bargaining proposals online, providing the public with a cost estimate of collective bargaining proposals before adoption, and opening negotiations up to the public would go a long way to restoring public confidence in the process.
"Governor Wolf said it himself, ‘It is time to restore the public’s trust in government by pushing for reforms and initiatives that increase openness and transparency.’ Today, the governor can lead by example."
Conflict of Interest Could be Mitigated
Much of the $2.6 million donated to the Wolf campaign by six of the sixteen government unions whose contracts are being negotiated was collected from public employees’ paychecks using public payroll systems. Provisions in the contracts themselves enable the state collection of government union political money.
"SEIU, AFSCME, and UFCW alone gave nearly $1.7 million to elect the man now sitting across the table from them in these contract negotiations," Benefield commented. "If Governor Wolf is serious about ethics, transparency, and ending conflicts of interest, he can negotiate an end to the taxpayer-subsidized collection of political money. Otherwise he will be helping some of his largest political donors use state resources to collect money that will almost certainly be sent right back to him for his reelection."
Nathan Benefield and other Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Cindy Hamill at (856) 607-4208 to schedule an interview.
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For more information, please contact Cindy Hamill, director of strategic communications for the Commonwealth Foundation at (856) 607-4208 or [email protected].
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