What the right wing has in mind for the states

While government in Washington, D.C., remains divided and marked by long-term gridlock, governments in the states are much less divided. Of the 50 states, 37 now feature state governments where the governor and majorities in both legislative houses are controlled by one party-24 of those are controlled by Republicans. Extreme, anti-working family Republicans have repeatedly assaulted the rights of people in recent years and, by all accounts, the trend looks to expand in 2013. Working families are mobilized and fought back in 2012 and will continue to fight in 2013.  The response to the “right to work” for less push in Michigan was so strong, that governors in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have since declared that they won’t push for right to work in their states. 

Here are some of the key issues that are likely to be fought in state legislative battles this year.

Budget Cuts (likely to be proposed in as many as 29 states): With most states facing balanced-budget requirements and weak revenues because of the struggling economy, the top targets for cuts are likely to be government programs, services and the state employees who deliver the services. Example: Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) proposed a budget for this year that cut total spending by $800 million.

Health Care Reform (22 states): Obamacare has been a target of conservatives since 2010 and several states are attempting to weaken or stall the implementation of the law’s provisions, which will make health care more expensive and less available to working families. Example: Florida Republicans, led by Gov. Rick Scott, failed to amend the state Constitution in November, but are still looking at ways to stall or stop Obamacare from being implemented in the state.

Immigration (16 states): While the AFL-CIO and President Obama press for comprehensive immigration reform at the national level, more and more states are likely to follow in the footsteps of Arizona and make it more difficult for hardworking immigrants to support their families. Example: North Carolina is seeking to copy Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws, but they’re unsure about how to proceed in the face of recent court rulings.

Paycheck Deception/Restrictions on Public Sector Payroll Deduction (20 states): These misleading proposals would prohibit any use of payroll-deducted dues for purposes deemed to be “political” by conservatives. Workers are already protected in every state from being forced to have their money support political activities, so these laws are little more than an attempt to weaken the voice of working families. Alternately, the total prohibition of payroll deduction for union dues would not only cripple unions, it would silence the voices of working families, as their key advocates would lose much of their funding and be forced to spend most of their time administratively dealing with contributions. Example: While California voters defeated paycheck deception for the third time in 14 years by voting down Prop. 32 in November, few believe that the proposals backers are done trying to get it passed.

Project Labor Agreements (19 states): Despite the evidence that PLAs clearly improve the working conditions, salaries and benefits of both union and non-union workers, prevent disruptive work stoppages and bring construction projects in on time and under budget, conservatives are trying to weaken or ban them as a way to increase profits for their allies in the construction business. Example: Conservatives in North Dakota are pushing to ban PLAs.

Prevailing Wage (22 states): As a way to placate the contractors who give to their campaigns, conservatives are looking to curtail prevailing wage laws, which would mean contractors could pay workers substandard wages. Example: In Michigan, the same Mackinac Center that championed the recently passed “right to work” for less law is pushing for repeal of all local prevailing wage laws.

Privatization (31 states): Evidence is clear that privatization of government services frequently increases costs and lowers the quality of services while it also shifts government funding to private interests and weakens accountability for the provision of those services. Example: While the November elections might stop the push to create privatized prisons in New Hampshire, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) of Pennsylvania is looking to privatize the state’s lottery.

Public Education (37 states): Education is one of the largest budget items that states deal with and it is a goldmine for private interests looking to profit off of public funding. Proposals that make money for private interests are growing and include charter schools, vouchers, online education and other initiatives that hurt both students and teachers. Example: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) created a task force to craft a plan to implement school vouchers.

Public-Sector Benefits (31 states): More and more often, public-sector benefits, such as pensions, are falsely blamed for budget deficits that are caused by Republican policies and a bad economy. Rather than finding ways to increase revenue, a growing tactic is to break promises made to working families. Example: Activists in California are actively seeking to cut government employee pensions, saying that the “crisis” in pensions is a “tsunami.”

Public-Sector Collective Bargaining (22 states): Government employees are an easy target for conservative lawmakers and the fewer rights those workers have, the easier it is for politicians to cut their benefits and pay, or fire them altogether. Example: The Illinois Senate passed a measure last week that would prevent some government employees from joining collective bargaining units and Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has expressed willingness to support the bill.

Public-Sector Layoffs (16 states): Rather than investing taxpayer money wisely or raising revenue, conservatives are choosing to lay off public-sector workers, one of the key reasons the jobs recovery is slow. Example: Despite evidence that previous layoffs haven’t helped North Carolina’s economy, more job cuts are being pushed for in 2013.

“Right to Work” for Less (15 states): Based entirely on the false premise that workers are forced to join unions, “right to work” laws do little but make it easier for employers to pay their workers less. Example: After “right to work” legislation was sneaked through by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) in a special session in Michigan last month, supporters of the anti-worker laws are looking for the next state where they could have success, which could be any number of states.

Tax Issues (17 states): Right-wing antitax ideology has led to a series of proposals such as the misnamed “taxpayer bill of rights” and requirements for supermajorities in order to raise tax rates that cripple state and local governments and increase the likelihood that public-sector workers will be fired, as they are blamed for budget crises that were caused not by workers, but by tax cuts without replacing revenue. Example: For the second year in a row, Pennsylvania Republicans are pushing a bill modeled after the taxpayer bill of rights.

Teacher Tenure (20 states): Proposals to eliminate teacher tenure are thinly veiled attempts to weaken the rights of educators and allow states to pay them less. Example: Missouri teachers are gearing up to fight legislative proposals that might weaken or eliminate tenure.

Unemployment Insurance (20 states): Despite the fact that unemployment insurance is paid for by employers as part of their compensation to workers, states are trying to weaken the system and make it harder for struggling families to collect the benefits they’ve earned. This allows them to redirect UI funds towardother purposes. Example: North Carolina Republicans introduced a bill that would cut benefits for jobless residents.

Voter Suppression (19 states): Despite the fact that there is little to no evidence that voter fraud is a significant problem in any state, conservatives are pushing laws that make it harder for law-abiding, registered voters to participate in the democratic process. They realize that the fewer working class people who vote, the more power resides in the hands of anti-worker conservatives. Example: West Virginia Republicans are attempting to require voters to show a photo ID at the polls.

Workers’ Compensation (26 states): The all-out assault on the rights of working families goes as far as to threaten Workers’ Compensation, which is already a compromise that allows employers to avoid lawsuits when their workers get hurt on the job. Example: Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman (R) recently said that “reforming” the workers’ compensation system was one of his top priorities, which in all likelihood points to the reduction of benefits if he is successful.

Photo: AFL-CIO


Kenneth Quinnell
Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth Quinnell is Senior Writer at AFL-CIO