Paycheck Protection in Pennsylvania Passes First Test

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Paycheck Protection in Pennsylvania is finally on the move. On June 23, the bill, which would end the use of government resources to collect political money for government unions, passed the House State Government Committee, 14-9.

House Bill 1507 would amend the Pennsylvania Public Relations Act by making “membership dues and political contributions collected by the employer shall not be subject to bargaining for public employees covered under this act.”

Big Labor, the primary opponent of the bill, claims that Paycheck Protection is an “attack on workers’ rights.”

But, simply, Paycheck Protection ends government unions assault on taxpayer dollars. As the Commonwealth Foundation puts it, “public resources should never be used for political purposes.”

Hopefully, elected officials in Pennsylvania choose to end this blatant misuse of taxpayer funds.

However, as I noted in a previous post, using government resources to support the private interests of government unions runs afoul of Pennsylvania’s constitution and judicial rule known as the public purpose doctrine:

While the bill may face high hurdles for passage, there is another avenue available to Pennsylvanians that can stop public funds from primarily promoting special interest groups, such as unions.

 

Pennsylvania’s Constitution contains a provision known as the “Gift Clause.” Article VIII, Section 8 states, “The credit of the Commonwealth shall not be pledged or loaned to any individual, company, corporation or association nor shall the Commonwealth become a joint owner or stockholder in any company, corporation or association.”

 

At the core of the Gift Clause is that public funds must exclusively be expended for public purposes. In Pennsylvania, and many other states, the courts have created a judicial rule, known as the “public purpose” doctrine, which works hand in hand with the Gift Clause. The public-purpose doctrine was established in Pennsylvania, in Sharpless v. Mayor of Philadelphia.

The “public purpose” doctrine ensures tax funds prominently benefit the broader public and, conversely, a private entity is not the primary beneficiary of public expenditures. In addition, public funds may only be spent when it assists an activity that is a primary function of government that it traditionally performs.

 

In the Sharpless opinion, Justice C.J. Black states that “the legislature [does not have] any constitutional right to create a public debt, or to lay a tax . . . in order to raise funds for a mere private purpose.” 

 

Clearly, the government deducting union dues, for political purposes or otherwise, solely benefits unions, not the public. Also, collecting union dues is not a primary function of government.

 

Hopefully, HB 1507 passes, but if not, the public policy of using government resources to collect union dues should be challenged under the Gift Clause or public purpose doctrine.

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