OEA, NEA have spent big on failed efforts to grow government

March 23, 2015

Trent England

The Oklahoma Legislature is currently considering government’s role in collecting union dues. This is the third article in a series on the political agenda of the state’s largest union, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA). The first two articles discussed the pro-abortion, anti-gun politics of the National Education Association (NEA), which OEA dues help to support. Of course, OEA dues payers have every right to advocate for abortion and for gun bans. The question before the legislature is whether Oklahoma taxpayers should continue to offer an in-kind subsidy to collect these dues and pass them along to political organizations like the OEA.

While the first two articles mostly relate to national politics, significant OEA and even NEA funds have been spent on politics right here in Oklahoma. In 2010, the OEA and NEA were the primary backers of State Question 744, spending about $4 million gathering signatures and then running the campaign. That ballot measure would have required nearly a billion-dollar increase in education funding, either cannibalizing other state services or forcing massive tax increases.

The Oklahoman editorialized that the measure would likely come at the expense of services provided to seniors.

This is a critical time for all of us in our state's history, but the passage of SQ 744 would have devastating and far-reaching effects on our families, communities and local economies. We're not opposed to helping schools, but we do not think it should come at the expense of other state services. Seniors have vital needs that must also be met. Passage of State Question 744 would hurt us all — especially Oklahoma's seniors.

During the SQ 744 campaign, The Oklahoman reviewed other failed OEA efforts in support of higher taxes.

Consider the history. In 1992, union officials lobbied for tax and spending decisions to stay with the Legislature and opposed a public vote on State Question 640. The proposition, which ultimately passed, gives voters the final say on tax increases. Six years later, OEA took the opposite route, seeking a public vote on a measure that would have required 62 percent of state revenues to be set aside for education. Lawmakers declined to put it on the ballot. Then in 2001, OEA opposed right to work, claiming that only more money earmarked for education would grow the economy.

When those strategies didn't work, the union turned to the courts. In 2006, the union and three school districts sued the state and its legislative leaders alleging common education needed $1 billion more in annual funding.

The courts threw out the lawsuit, deciding lawmakers must make the spending decisions.

Since the courts also failed the OEA, it is looking once again to voters. We find it ironic that the union and its supporters are turning to the initiative petition process to get what they want. In opposing a 2005 effort to get a Taxpayer Bill of Rights to a statewide ballot, the union encouraged its members to report that petition circulators were bothering or harassing them in an attempt to disrupt the signature-gathering process. Talk about harassment. We'd bet the OEA expects to be able to gather signatures without detractors making false claims against well-meaning petition circulators.

It's all about more money. After all, the OEA hasn't supported school consolidation, a later start to the school year, charter schools, vouchers, or other programs that might actually make for a better, more efficient use of taxpayer dollars. In winning the fight for higher teacher salaries, they've fought against increased accountability through merit or performance pay.

Despite the $4 million campaign, including advertisements accusing state legislators of greed complete with pictures of limousines and Lear jets, SQ 744 went down to defeat, 81% to 19%.

The Oklahoma Education Association is a rare thing in Oklahoma—a government employee union. It has been granted the special power by the state to collectively bargain, a power opposed by former President Franklin Roosevelt because of the potential to corrupt the democratic process.

Like many government employee unions across the country, the OEA has become a political organization. Whether it ought to have the state-granted power of collective bargaining or not, the OEA and its members have a right to engage in political activity. The question now faced by legislators is whether taxpayers should subsidize such political groups by serving as their dues collector.