By Timothy Riley
On the day after the Packers won the Super Bowl in January 2011 our current Governor gathered his inner circle to announce his intention to “drop the bomb.” The bomb was, of course, Act 10, which repealed the collective bargaining rights of public sector employees. During the course of this meeting, our current Governor shared with the gathering his belief that Reagan’s busting of the PATCO union in 1981 was directly responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall.
This is a man so profoundly lacking in intellectual curiosity, so limited in his world view, so wanting for education that he truly believes that Reagan’s union busting action caused the fall of the Berlin Wall. This little anecdote reveals much about our current Governor particularly with regard to his delusions of grandeur and his thirst for power.
In an effort to sate these delusions of grandeur and thirst for power, our current Governor proposed, and his right wing extremist colleagues in the legislature passed, Act 21 in June of 2011. Not nearly enough has been written about Act 21. This law vests in the Governor’s office all power to enact, amend and enforce administrative rules. Administrative rules have the same force and effect as statutory laws passed by the legislature. They are rules promulgated by state agencies that affect every aspect of public life from workers’ compensation to the environment; from education to transportation and wages.
Prior to Act 21, agencies had rule making authority which was subject to legislative oversight and repeal or amendment by the legislative Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR). As administrative agencies are part of the executive branch which in turn are presided over by the Chief Executive, the Governor, they are not empowered to legislate under the basic principles of constitutional separation of powers.
In short, the Legislature enacts the laws and the Executive branch implements and enforces the laws. The executive branch check on the legislative branch is the veto authority of the Governor. With Act 21, the Legislature ceded its authority to the Governor by vesting in that office complete authority to enact, amend or repeal administrative rules with no legislative oversight or review. Act 21 makes the Governor both legislator and Chief Executive.
The danger and breadth of that power became readily apparent this week when the current Governor repealed consideration of “add-ons” in public employee compensation pay scales. The most common “add-ons” provide additional compensation for teachers who continue to pursue their education and obtain advanced degrees. Under the current system, a teacher with a Masters or Doctorate degree earns more under the pay scale structure . This pay scale structure is also commonly used in calculating wage scales for other professional level State employees.
Wielding his broad authority under Act 10 in general and his unbridled authority under Act 21 in particular, the Governor has now decreed that “add-ons” are prohibited as part of the “base wage” calculation in the pay scale structure in public employee contracts. The net effect of this new rule promulgated solely by our current Governor is a potential reduction for many teachers and other professionals of up to 30% in their wages next year.
While the edict does not require these reductions, the de-funding of education by this current Governor will likely force many school districts to employ this latest “tool” to balance their budgets. School districts have only attempted to absorb the first $800 million of the $1.6 billion in cuts to date. The second half is on its way in the fall and those additional cuts coupled with the restrictions placed on levies and property taxes will starve public education and deprive teachers of anything resembling just compensation.
That, of course, is the current Governor’s plan. He perceives the destruction of public sector unions – in particular the teachers union – as his “Reagan moment.” The defeat of his political enemies in furtherance of his thirst for power. However, instead of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we will see the destruction of public education.
If Act 10 was the “bomb”, Act 21 is the “stealth bomb”.