Neutering school committees: What’s the point of local elections, then?

Monday, July 27, 2009
The Providence Journal

IT IS A FOUNDATIONAL TENET of the American political system that a sitting legislature cannot bind a future legislature. This concept is the very basis of our electoral system. Elections would have little meaning if the actions of former legislators could not be dislodged by their successors.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has articulated this common-law principle as meaning: “Any contract made by a governmental authority involving the performance of a governmental function that extends beyond the unexpired terms of the governmental officials executing the contract is void because such an agreement improperly ties the hands of subsequent officials.”

In spite of this rule, at a time when the General Assembly is under pressure to lift mandates on municipalities to allow them to cope with cuts in local aid, the legislature has proposed to make public-teacher contracts perpetual — continuing the terms of an existing contract until it is replaced by a new one.

Few legislators see the danger in what seems to be simply confirming a longstanding custom that ensures continuity of service. In practice, however, such a device turns public-labor contracts into perpetual one-way ratchets. Salaries and benefits can go up, but they can never go down…

…It should raise some suspicion that the sudden rush to enact a statute that creates perpetual contracts comes when the private sector is, for the first time in recent memory, experiencing reductions in wages and benefits. Suddenly the argument for parity has gone silent…

…Even with its immense costs, binding arbitration has not bought “labor peace.” The Providence firefighters’ recent picketing provides a startling example of the insatiable appetite of unions that outstrips even the generous environment of binding arbitration…

Entire letter Neutering School Committees

Brian Bishop directs the Founders Project at the Ocean State Policy Research Institute.

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