Wondering why you paid so much in taxes on April 15? The answer lies in Oregon.
In January, labor unions in that state campaigned for two ballot initiatives hiking income and business taxes. They argued that businesses needed to pay their "fair share." Businesses fought the measures, but unions outspent them 3-to-2, and the measures passed easily.
This seems odd. Like most Americans, union members don't especially like paying taxes. Indeed, the labor movement went to bat to exempt its members from the tax increases in President Barack Obama's health plan. So why would unions press for higher taxes in Oregon? Because unions representing government workers funded the campaign. The more the government taxes, the more it can pay its unionized workers.
State employees in Oregon don't contribute toward the cost of their health plans - and they want it to stay that way. So public-sector unions in Oregon went all out for higher taxes to forestall spending cuts. Unfortunately this is the new face of organized labor across the United States. The market competition that has bankrupted unionized companies such as General Motors doesn't exist for government. No matter how much unions raise costs, the government (almost always) stays in business. So even as private-sector unions have shed members, public-sector unions have added them.
Last year those paths crossed: A majority of union members nationwide now work for the government. Three times as many union members work for the U.S. Postal Service as in the auto industry. The union movement's priorities have shifted with their membership.
Unions once put their energy into improving private-sector working conditions, such as banning child labor and pushing workplace-safety laws. Now unions focus on making government employment even more comfortable. Have they ever. The average state and local employee earns $40 an hour in compensation, well above the $27 an hour made by the private-sector workers whose taxes fund their pay.
Much of this generous compensation comes not in cash wages but in benefits. The average government employee earns triple the retirement contributions of the average private-sector worker and can retire far earlier. Government employees get generous health benefits, too. Almost one out of every four local government employees pay nothing out of pocket for health care. How many private-sector workers get that?
Government workers have also been insulated from the pain of the recession. The government has been hiring even as the private sector lost 8 million jobs over the last two years. No wonder government employees are more likely than anyone else to tell pollsters that their personal finances are doing well.
Understandably, government employee unions like these arrangements. But the money that makes it all possible comes from your taxes - and that explains why the union movement has become an aggressive lobby for higher taxes all across America.
The labor movement's love for taxes is not unique to Oregon. In Arizona, government unions successfully lobbied for a $250 million property tax increase. In Minnesota, unions narrowly failed in passing a $1 billion tax hike. In Illinois they are trying to hike the state income tax by 66 percent. The list of union-backed tax-increase campaigns goes on and on.
Instead of voters telling the government how to spend their money, government unions now tell voters the taxes they want them to pay. They always have a one-word answer: more.
As taxpayers in Oregon recently discovered, the new labor movement wants you to pay your "fair share" - to them.
James Sherk is a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.