JeffCo’s Teachers Unions Shell Game

Another year, another school bond issue.  This year, it’s Jefferson County where Referenda 3A & 3B will be on the ballot, asking property owners to increase the mill levy.  3A will fund operations, 3B capital investment.

The unions favoring the increase are using the usual scare tactics, of course.  But this year, thanks to Sheila Atwell at Jeffco Students First (among others), they’re having to play defense on a number of issues, including the district’s PERA contributions.

The union claims, with some truth, that:

PERA contribution rates also cannot be changed through this November’s election.  Money from 3A supports local schools and prevents further cuts to instruction; money from 3B goes to badly-needed maintenance and repair on the schools.  Money from 3A and 3B does not go to PERA.

Currently, it is not possible for the Jeffco Board of Education to ask district employees to pay a higher percentage of their own PERA contributions to offset budget shortfalls.  Senate Bill 11-074 was introduced in February 2011 and would have allowed school districts like Jeffco to raise the employee contribution rate and lower the employer rate, but that bill died in committee.  No new legislation has been presented since 2011.

Because no new legislation has been introduced since 2011, changes made to PERA contribution rates can only made through legislation by the Colorado General Assembly at the state capitol.

Others have suggested that PERA is a union issue.  It is not.  Unions cannot change the state-mandated rates.  PERA is a state issue and citizens who want to see it changed need to lobby their state representatives to do so.

Mixed in with the truth, however, is a healthy helping of disingenuousness.  They are correct to this extent: The specifics of PERA are set by the legislature, and are not really negotiable at the local level.

That’s about where it ends.  That PERA contributions are fixed, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.  They are a very real – and growing – part of the school budget.  By taking that off the table for discussion, the CEA is asking homeowners – all taxpayers, really – to work harder and longer to fund union members’ retirements, while putting off their own.

The Democrats in the state legislature did indeed kill a bill, SB11-074, that would have permitted localities and school districts to shift some of the PERA contributions from employer to employee, as the state can do.  A quick search of the Secretary of State’s site shows that among those instructing their lobbyists to oppose SB11-074 were PERA itself, the Colorado AFL-CIO, and the CEA.

To use the fact that the structure is set by the legislature as an excuse to persuade taxpayers to raise their own taxes for your benefit, advise them to seek redress at the Capitol if they don’t like it, and then actively work to frustrate that reform, is the kind of tactic that might have worked once, before the Age of Transparency, but no longer.

There was a 3% reduction in pay, but there’s no reason to attribute that specifically to PERA, to call it the teachers’ contribution to PERA solvency, as the union tries to do elsewhere on the page.  What they want to do is to day that taxes aren’t going to PERA, while their pay decreases are.  It’s the same sort of rhetorical shell game that unions often play.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics quarterly survey of wages shows that the average weekly JeffCO wage declined by 3.9% year-over-year in QA of 2011.  So it’s all in the spirit of shared sacrifice.

UPDATE: Go to JeffCo Students First Action to see what you can do to stop this measure.

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