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EDITORIAL: The dangers of turning the keys over to government unions

Updated October 3, 2019 - 10:04 pm

During the recent legislative session, Gov. Steve Sisolak championed and signed a bill allowing state workers to collectively bargain. The dangerous fiscal ramifications of this move will become apparent in coming years. For a preview, however, Nevadans need look no further than Illinois to see what happens when Democrats beholden to public employee unions dominate the political process.

The Land of Lincoln is bleeding residents, who are fleeing the state’s burdensome taxes and moribund economy. From 2014 through 2018, the state lost 150,000 people, with 45,000 moving out last year alone. Middle-class families are socked with the second-highest property taxes in the nation, their tax bills often exceeding their mortgages. The Illinois Policy Institute notes that, since 1990, the state’s “residential property taxes have grown 3.3 times faster than the state’s median household income.”

Corruption, an entrenched progressive political class and cronyism certainly haven’t helped Illinois. But the inordinate power wielded by Illinois government unions is also a significant factor in the state’s population decline. Public employee unions run Illinois. Each election cycle, government unions pour millions into electing their favored Democratic candidates to state and local offices. They get paid back in spades, with ever-escalating taxes on private-sector workers forced to fund their contracts and benefits.

Illinois state workers are among the best paid in the country and make “up to 60 percent higher than their private-sector counterparts,” the IPI reports. In addition, public employees enjoy generous pension benefits that, the state Supreme Court has ruled, cannot be reduced for current workers or retirees.

Meanwhile, Illinois is a fiscal basket case. Its legislature failed to pass a budget for fiscal 2016 and 2017 and faced a deficit approaching $15 billion two years ago. The state’s credit rating hovers near junk-bond status. Outstanding pension obligations now total north of $160 billion. Many cities now must forgo basic services and lay off workers in order to cover mushrooming pension costs. For instance, East St. Louis was recently forced to turn over $2.2 million to the state in order to fund firefighter retiree checks.

Having spent decades trolling for votes by promising government unions more than they were willing to deliver, the state’s political class now annually tries to cobble together a mixture of tax hikes and budget gimmicks to keep Illinois solvent, further hindering the economy and exacerbating a residential exodus.

Nevada is not Illinois. But it should be a red flag to Silver State pols about the dangers of ignoring public pension reform and the inevitable fiscal risks associated with empowering government unions at the expense of state taxpayers.

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