Victor Moore, the governor’s budget writer, is frustrated with all the Monday-morning quarterbacking of his negotiations with state employee unions last year. “There’s a lot of 20/20 hindsight going on,” he says.
Moore, director of the state Office of Financial Management, called today in response to yesterday’s post detailing the Republicans’ charge that the governor (and, by extension, Moore) had put the Legislature in a bind by signing new contracts with state workers last year. The GOP argues that the collective bargaining law would have allowed the state to set its own terms and conditions of state employee had the governor let the contracts lapse.
Moore disputes that. He says he can’t stonewall the unions. He’s required to bargain in good faith and argues that the state would probably be in court right now trying to fight an unfair labor practice lawsuit had he done differently.
He says he also can’t tell state workers that they get less than the Legislature is willing to give them. After Moore essentially invalidated the deals the employee unions had cut in 2008 by declaring them financially infeasible, the Legislature passed a budget passed on the existing pay levels and a higher employee share of health care costs.
When the unions began asking to restart negotiations, their opening bid was a contract that didn’t have cost-of-living increases. How could Moore say no? He says it would have been bad-faith bargaining to go back to the table and demand more savings than lawmakers had requested. In the end, he struck deals that shifted more health care costs to employees by way of higher co-pays and deductibles.
The contracts did include the much-debated “step” increases that give some less senior classified workers raises of up to 5 percent. But Moore says he had no basis for refusing those raises. The Legislature never includes the money for step increases in the budget, and state agencies always have to find the money elsewhere. Yet, the step increases always happen.
“We never felt like we had the legal right to not negotiate new contracts,” Moore said, “and we never got an indication from the Legislature that it wanted additional concessions beyond health benefits.”