Newspaper column: Book offers historic perspective on the press

The premise of conservative commentator Mark Levin’s new book, “Unfreedom of the Press,” is that modern journalism has devolved into an opinionated, group-think pack of politically partisan propagandists who oppose President Trump at every turn and think he is a danger to freedom of the press.

While we don’t think that conclusion is totally valid, the book does offer a worthy historic perspective on the behaviors of the press and our presidents.

Levin notes that for more than a century the American press was unabashedly partisan, often surviving on printing contracts from the party in power when the newspapers were able to put them there. He seems to accept the notion that sometime early in the 19th Century journalists altruistically embraced the concept of objectivity.

Actually the conversion was mostly profit-motivated. It was borne of the penny press.

The newspaper business model changed from being dependent on government printing contracts and political party handouts to one of being supported by advertisers, whose customers paid the same for a pair of shoes no matter which party they embraced. So why alienate half of your potential customers with partisanship? The newspaper that delivered the highest readership fetched the highest advertising dollar.

Levin’s book does point out correctly that Trump’s often repeated and tweeted animus for the press is benign compared to past presidents.

With the ink still damp on the First Amendment President John Adams pushed through the Federal Congress a series of Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. These acts made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute …” The penalty was a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Under those laws more than 20 Republican newspaper editors were arrested and some were imprisoned. Among those was newspaperman James Callender who called Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” These details are not in the book, by the way.

Levin notes Abraham Lincoln enforced censorship during the Civil War and jailed several reporters, editors and publishers.

Newspaper column: Unionization of state public workers would fleece taxpayers

Unfortunately a Democratic proposal to allow state public employees to collectively bargain for wages and benefits, Senate Bill 135, survived this past week, passing out of a state Senate committee on a party-line vote, even after studies showed it will balloon the cost to Nevada taxpayers.

Since 1969 local government public workers have been allowed to unionize, but not state workers. As a result, according to an analysis of 2017 Census data by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), local government workers here are paid 46 percent more than private-sector workers, the highest such wage gap in the nation. The nationwide gap is a mere 8 percent.

Among the 50 states, Nevada local government workers ranked fifth highest in pay, state public workers, even without collective bargaining, ranked 10th, while private-sector workers ranked 47th.

A study in 2014 by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research by Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine found that even when education and experience differences between state public workers and private-sector workers are taken into account, state workers in Nevada still are paid 29 percent more than private workers. This ranked ninth highest in the nation and was nearly triple the 11 percent differential found nationwide.

Giving state public workers collective bargaining rights is likely to result in an even greater imbalance. In fact, a study commissioned by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce estimates the unionization could in two decades cost as much as $596 per Nevada resident a year, measured in inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars. This would amount to as much as $1.75 billion a year. The entire current general fund budget amounts to about $4 billion a year.

In a statement accompanying the collective bargaining cost study, Hugh Anderson, chairman of the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee, argued, “This report shows that allowing collective bargaining for state employees would add significant new ongoing annual costs to the state budget and would likely take resources away from other important priorities including education, human services, public safety, infrastructure, and health care.”

Nevada Democrats have identified SB135 as a priority this session and Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak said during his State of the State speech that state workers “should be empowered to bargain collectively in the years ahead.” A similar measure in 2017, facing a Republican-majority Legislature and Republican governor, went nowhere.

Unionization of public workers results in higher costs because taxpayers are largely shut out of the negotiations and only get to see the end result. The unions contribute to elected officials who support their demands, providing an incentive for elected officials to comply with those demands and get re-elected. Further, under Nevada’s collective bargaining law, if negotiations come to an impasse, an arbitrator is appointed to settle the dispute and the primary criteria for granting a union’s demands is whether the government entity has the ability to pay what is demanded even if other spending must be curtailed. That determination is usually in favor of the union.

NPRI’s Robert Fellner, the group’s policy director, testified against SB135, saying, “Collective bargaining for public workers is unwarranted because the public sector lacks any of the imbalances that collective bargaining in the private sector was intended to fix. While private-sector employers could theoretically profit by underpaying their workers, the public sector has neither owners, nor profits, over which to negotiate. Elected officials making decisions regarding public workers’ compensation do not have to pay for these costs themselves.”

As we have noted in the past, none other than the icon of progressivism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, pointed out in a 1937 letter the problem with collective bargaining for public employees: “The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people …”

The taxpayers need to inundate lawmakers in Carson City with demands that this grab for their hard-earned money be derailed.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: State public employee unions will bust the budget

Ramirez cartoon

While Gov. Steve Sisolak has promised no new taxes in his proposed budget for the next two years, he also plans to light the fuse on a huge tax bomb in the future.

In his State of the State speech in Carson City before lawmakers he casually  tossed out that state public employees “should be empowered to bargain collectively in the years ahead.” Since 1969 local government workers in Nevada have been allowed to form unions and collectively bargain for pay and benefits, but   not so state government employees.

Sisolak doubled down during an interview at the Smith Center in Las Vegas with the editor of the news and commentary website The Nevada Independent, saying, state public workers generally are paid less than local government workers and discussion of collective bargaining rights for state workers is long overdue.

Sisolak said, “Our state employees should be treated in a fair and respectful manner. The fact that they haven’t had a raise in 10 years and the fact they don’t have the same working conditions that other jurisdictions had. I’m coming from a county that employees did have collective bargaining … they make a lot more money. … The pay is probably 30 to 40 percent less than any other governmental entity that exists. And to attract good people at those wages is simply not going to happen.”

After editor Jon Ralston pointed out that collective bargaining would cost the state a lot more tax money, the governor responded, “We’re going to invest in our people, Jon. That’s a good thing. I don’t think that’s a downside. We’re going to invest in the people who provide services to Nevada and we’re going to have to find the resources in order to make those accommodations.”

First of all, state workers were given 3 percent cost-of-living pay increases in each of the past two years.

For years local government pay in Nevada has exceeded those in both state government employ and in the private sector, due to collective bargaining. But according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for the second quarter of 2018 the average weekly wage for private sector Nevadans was $908, while the local government worker was paid $1,049 and the state public employee averaged $1,097. By the way, the federal employees in Nevada averaged $1,406.

Back on Nevada Day this past year, the researchers at the Nevada Policy Research Institute crunched the Census data for 2017 and found that local government workers in Nevada were the fifth highest paid in the country compared to other local government employees, while Nevada’s private-sector workers ranked a distant 47th compared to private sector workers in other states.

“On a statewide basis, government pay and benefits cost taxpayers roughly $10 billion last year — which was equal to 80 percent of all tax revenue collected by every state and local government agency in Nevada,” noted NPRI policy director Robert Fellner. “Thus, in the event Nevada’s government pay gap continues its upward growth, the resulting tax hikes necessary to sustain such excess may become too great to bear.”

Fellner argued, “Because such outsized pay packages come at the expense of taxpayers who earn much less themselves, elected officials should consider the fairness and sustainability of continually caving in to government unions’ endless demands for even more.”

Imagine what the future will look like if state workers are allowed to form unions and bargain collectively.

Under Nevada’s collective bargaining law, if negotiations come to an impasse, an arbitrator is appointed to settle the dispute and the primary criteria for granting a union’s demands is whether the government entity has the ability to pay what is demanded. That determination is usually in favor of the union.

As we have noted in the past, none other than the icon of progressivism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, pointed out in a 1937 letter the problem with collective bargaining for public employees: “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people …”

When the people are paid less than their servants, who is the master?

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Local governments could save millions if freed from collective bargaining restrictions

One of the biggest costs at just about every level of local government across the state of Nevada is personnel. Over the years our lawmakers have made it difficult to control those costs by making public employee union collective bargaining practically a mandate.

Ending public employee unions entirely would be our first option, but short of that there are several steps that could be taken in the upcoming session of the Nevada Legislature.

First, end binding arbitration. Under current law the local elected officials make a union contract offer and the union makes its own demands. If the two sides reach an impasse, which is too often the case in this post-recession, tight-money period, some out-of-state paid arbitrator who has never paid a dime in Nevada taxes and never will be affected by his or her decision decides which of the two final offers to impose.

The arbitrator is not allowed to compromise between the two positions and frequently sides with higher union wage demands simply because the city or county or school district can “afford” it, whether it is fair and competitive with the private sector or not.

Eliminating binding arbitration could save taxpayers millions of dollars.

Second, make the process transparent. Nevada Revised Statute 288 specifically states union negotiations or even informal discussions do not have to be open to the public. So they never are.

This means that the voters and taxpayers are left entirely in the dark and have no inkling as to whether their representative is fighting for their hard-earned money or rolling over for a belly scratch by public union officials who can provide cash and manpower come re-election time.

Private employers have the threat of being able to close up shop and go out of business. Public employers have no such option with which to bargain

Such negotiations should open to the public under open meetings laws every step of the way, right down to the final public vote.

Lawmakers could cut and paste language from the American Legislative Exchange Council’s model bill on this topic:

“Labor negotiations between government and government employees are an extension of the people’s business. … Since those negotiations deal with the public employer and public employees, taxpayers have a vested interest in the proceedings. … Taxpayers deserve to observe, monitor, and even participate in the processes by which public contracts are negotiated and awarded.”

Third, public employee unions should collect their dues from their members and not have the government go to the trouble and expense of cutting a check to the unions for members’ dues. This makes the cost of union membership more obvious for the workers.

Finally, the public employees should be required periodically to vote on which union, if any, is to represent them in collective bargaining. Perhaps more than a few public employees would rather stand on their own merits and compete for pay and benefits rather than settle for the same pay as union-protected laggards.

None other than the icon of progressivism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, pointed out in a 1937 letter the problem with collective bargaining for public employees:

“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people …”

We demand our lawmakers put each of these suggestions to a vote, especially ending public employee unions entirely, so the voters can see who is really representing them come next Election Day.