It is an honor and a privilege to be attending this year’s Right Online conference, though Ohio’s climate in August is much more palatable. One of the panelists this year, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, spoke on the topic of Workplace Freedom. She had an interesting perspective on the issue, and graciously allowed an interview on her work in the Lone Star State.
As a matter of background, Combs grew up ranching and had no intention to get into politics. But after one government bureaucrat told her “she just couldn’t understand” an issue involving her property, she decided to get involved (she later put that bureaucrat in his place at the Public Utilities Commission). Rising through the ranks, she went from a state legislator, where she co-authored Texas’ groundbreaking private property rights legislation, to the first woman elected as Texas Agriculture Commisioner, before being voted to serve as Texas Comptroller—the state’s chief fiscal officer—in 2006.
She has a very impressive resume, to be sure, but what intrigued me was her unique perspective on Workplace Freedom. Anyone with any measure of intellectual honesty understands the benefits of Right to Work. No matter what statistic you look at, over the last several decades, Right to Work states have systematically outperformed forced unionism states.
The problem remains the campaign of lies that unions have and will always pursue in order to stop any kind of labor reforms. We learned a hard lesson in 2011—it’s very difficult to beat a super-funded effort of emotionally charged lies.
So how can you possibly win that argument? Combs suggests, and rightly so, it’s about increasing information to the average voter.
Combs is currently involved in a dramatic effort to overhaul local government transparency in Texas—an effort that will help voters know just exactly where things stand in the state. You can access the site at TellTheTruthTexas.org, but Combs sums it up nicely with this slogan: “Can you see your government?”
The site is a landmark effort to aggregate local government spending data into one publicly accessible site, letting taxpayers know exactly where their money is going, and where many of the debts and unfunded liabilities lie.
To make an Ohio connection, Treasurer Josh Mandel has worked on this issue, making government salary data available on his website. To no surprise, Combs recently spoke with Mandel on the issue of transparency, but it is her goal to expand the current scope.
How does that impact Workplace Freedom? Because, as Combs pointed out, when it comes to local government debt, union groups have a disproportionate share of unfunded liabilities, formed from years of unrealistic, unsustainable promises. A simple look at our neighbor to the north reveals just how financially damaging union pension liabilities can be.
Taxpayers deserve to know how government is spending their money, and shouldn’t have to jump through a dozen hoops to get there. In 2011, it took hours of intensive research to come up with accurate numbers as to how Issue 2 would have saved taxpayer dollars. Why not make that information available at the click of a mouse?
Combs put it nicely when she said that government spending necessarily requires a mountain of national income tax, state income tax, local income tax, sales tax, and property tax (among many, many others), amounting to a huge stack of obligations, and how that is ultimately spent is largely invisible to the individual. Plainly put, transparency is key.
At the end of the day, taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going, and we need to stop settling for the “you’re too dumb to know, but smart enough to pay” argument. And once voters know just where their tax dollars are going, they have the necessary information to make the right decision at the ballot box.
So how do you beat union lies? With facts and information, made available via open government. Treasurer Mandel has started that process here in Ohio—Comptroller Combs has taken it to the next level in Texas.
It’s an uphill battle, no doubt. But we need to lay the proper foundation in order to ultimately implement the policies necessary for financial stability and job creation. And it’s worth the fight. As parting advice, Combs offered some advice: “Be politely aggressive.”
That’s how we separate ourselves from those that oppose taxpayer rights.