Politics

Conservative Spotlight: Evergreen Freedom Foundation

EVERGREEN FREEDOM FOUNDATION

The Court of Appeals of the state of Washington decided in June that it is okay for Washington teachers to be forced to pay fees to a union that they don’t want to join and which the union then uses to fund political activity. Not only that, it decided that the section of a voter initiative (I-134) that passed by 72% and prohibited this practice was unconstitutional. "The law in question prohibited union officials from taking money from non-member teachers without consent to pay for union politics," reported the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF), which has helped lead the legal battle for teachers’ political rights. "The court said requiring unions to get voluntary contributions for politics is ‘unduly burdensome,’ and any free speech rights workers have are outweighed by a union’s right to speak for them unless they do something about it." In some states, many workers must pay fees to unions that they choose not to join because unions represent all workers under collective bargaining rules.

The voter-approved measure required unions to get non-members’ permission to use their money for politics. The Washington court said that instead, each non-member must on his own initiative file, within a certain time frame, a written request to have his fees exempted, and must do it every year-something few people are likely to trouble to do.

"We got the court ruling saying collective union free speech trumps individual speech," said Lynn Harsh, executive director of EFF. As the "paycheck protection" movement-aimed at ending unions’ practice of spending members’ dues and non-members’ fees on politics without their consent-gains some victories, the courts are performing their now-traditional role: abrogating democracy, the rule of law, and Americans’ rights. Harsh said that another court threw out an Idaho paycheck protection law on similar grounds.

Unions everywhere use their revenues to advance leftist causes and candidates, but paycheck protection could dramatically cut the flow of such funds. Typically, paycheck protection laws require unions to get written permission from each member (or non-member who pays dues) to use a portion of those dues for political purposes.

The local National Education Association affiliate, the Washington Education Association (WEA), has fought the 1992 ballot initiative for years. "The press has been against the WEA," said Harsh. "They’ve been very negative in the past few years." Even Democratic Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire has fought hard to preserve I-134, she said. The case has been appealed to the state supreme court.

EFF also works on other issues, such as state budgets now under pressure because of revenue declines after years of massive spending increases. Its Stewardship Project helps to "set priorities for state government," said EFF Communications Director Marsha Richards. "Instead of thinking in terms of raising taxes or cutting services, we proposed thinking in terms of, ‘What is state government’s core of functions? What do we need to do and how can we do it with the money we have?’ I.e., we start at the beginning." Washington’s Democratic governor has already implemented the idea, and someone from the office of the governor of Georgia "called and wanted to learn about it," said Richards.

"Gov. Gary Locke of Washington state offers policymakers a model of results-based budgeting, and the name of his new budget approach, ‘Priorities in Government,’ illustrates his seriousness about the initial step of defining priorities," said the fiscally moderate, highly influential Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) in a policy paper on August 5. The DLC is the Democratic Party’s primary intellectual bulwark against total socialism. "Facing a $2-billion budget shortfall in 2002, he turned the shortfall into an opportunity to reform the budget process by adopting a method of first determining what results residents want from government."

EFF has four common-sense recommendations for states’ tax policies: "Users of a government service should be charged user fees to pay for the service. Non-user fees should apply equally to all taxpayers. Taxes should not be collected to provide services that are not core functions of government. Tax policy must be kept simple and not punish the economic success of individuals or businesses."

"We’re moving back into education reform," Richards said, which "has been dormant for the past couple of years." The American educational system leaves a lot of room for common sense, and EFF supports basic ideas such as introducing competition to promote improvement, requiring reliable testing, and allowing people with degrees in a certain field to teach that subject without going through burdensome credentialing processes.

Richards said that Washington, often labeled a left-leaning state, has potential for accepting limited-government, free-market public policies. "There is often a conflict between the liberal, urban western part of the state and the rural, eastern part," she said. "Personally, I think that people need to be challenged with our ideas."

EFF may be reached at P.O. Box 552, Olympia, Wash. 98507 (360-956-3482; fax: 360-352-1874; e-mail: [email protected]; website: www.effwa.org).


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