A Suggested Tea Party Agenda
So the Tea Party Republicans are looking for places to save money. Excellent. I have a few suggestions that will not only save money for the nation as a whole but also a bundle for the transit community.
While our current federal budget provides a target-rich environment for budget cutters, here are my favorites:
Davis-Bacon Act– A depression era act (1931) which didn’t have a whole lot to do with the depression, the act was primarily designed to keep outside interlopers from swooping in and undercutting local contractors for local construction projects (and, oh, by the way, keeping minorities from taking advantage of employment opportunities). It stayed on the books and became a huge friend of the labor unions as it required federal construction projects to pay “prevailing wages”. Prevailing wages are determined by the Department of Labor and basically equal the local union wage scale. If even if a small percentage of a project is funded by the federal government, this requirement is invoked, resulting in the kiss of death for any number of potential projects across the nation that would depend on federal funds to successfully get off the ground. It has been estimated that this act, by inflating labor wage rates, costs American taxpayers $8 billion annually (and a $100 million in administrative costs) Not exactly chicken feed. Repeal this act and, presto, we’ve saved a pot full. Keep in mind the legendary Senator Everett Dirksen’s (R-IL) quip that “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you talking real money.”
Project Labor Agreement– Allow me to introduce the Project Labor Agreement, or PLA. When a Democratic Administration comes into power, an executive order is quickly issued putting PLAs into effect. When a Republican Administration is ushered in, the E.O. is just as speedily rescinded. What exactly is a PLA? Well, for federal construction projects using $25 million or more in federal funds, it requires contractors to sign a pre-hire agreement recognizing unions as the sole and exclusive bargaining representatives for the project, and requires employees to either join the union or pay union dues if they elect not to join. Contractors are required to hire from union hiring halls. In return, all labor unions on the project pledge not to strike during the duration of the project. A sweet deal? You betcha. Requiring a union shop effectively precludes non-union contractors. PLAs are promulgated under the guise of introducing stability and predictability in large, complex federal construction projects. In actuality, they impose union labor rates, restrictive union work rules and unnecessarily increase the costs of the project.
13(c) Labor Protections– The enabling legislation establishing the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (now the Federal Transit Administration) in 1964 contained a provision requiring union sign-off on every grant the agency makes. Without the sign-off, no grant can legally be made. It may have made sense in 1964 when the act went into affect and the industry was transitioning from the private to the public sector. The provision was designed to protect existing labor – management agreements when private transit companies were acquired by public authorities (private transit operations hit the bottom in 1963, when transit in the aggregate became unprofitable, the result of decades of massive government highway spending). The original transit legislation provided funds for these acquisitions, preserving failing transit operations across the country. Although its original purpose has long since been made obsolete, the provision endures on the books (under 49 U.S.C., section 5333(b)) and is used as a hammer when needed by the transit unions to pressure balky transit authorities to accept the union view on labor issues. No other transportation program has such a provision. It is certainly nothing the federal highway program has to worry about.
Tea Party Republicans could do worse. Although I abhor litmus tests, perhaps action (or no action) on these issues would signal how serious our new budget cutters are about tackling the federal deficit. Sacred cows must be corralled. Do I hear mooing?
[To our readers: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Happy, Bountiful New Year in 2011!!]