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Legislators stepping up, want government to step back from collecting union dollars

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after appearing in publications statewide. This column has been updated to reflect legislative developments since it was originally released.

Generate a word cloud from a week in Frankfort and the term “special interests” would feature prominently.

Most people identify “interest group” with private sector businesses lobbying to advance favorable legislation or pushing back against the heavy hand of government overregulation. Many Kentuckians, however, would be shocked at the number of taxpayer-funded organizations that employ lobbyists.

They should be troubled at the likelihood their tax dollars are being spent to take sides on issues with which they disagree. Plenty of evidence exists to suggest such consternation is well-founded and worthy of prompt legislative action to stop it.

For instance, while a 2021 poll by EdChoice Kentucky found that 71% support expanding school choice in the commonwealth the state’s association of school superintendents – among the loudest opponents to educational liberty – spent $33,600 with a contract lobbying firm to represent them that same year.

The Kentucky Public Library Association is represented by 10 legislative agents from a Frankfort government affairs firm. In 2022, this association made clear its opposition to the legislature giving county governments stronger oversight of local library boards; its disclosures reported  those agents were put to work.

Doing what, I wonder? Pulling out the stops to keep the oversight legislation from being passed, perhaps?

Also last year, a $4.3 million appropriation to support a statewide tour by the Louisville Orchestra was included in the state budget. The orchestra reported a little over $35,000 in lobbying expenses during the session – an  over 100-times return on investment!

Money not only talks; but the orchestra’s five lobbyists played spot-on variations of Frankfort’s big-spending tune. Paganini would be proud.

Then, there’s the policy of subsidizing dues collections through payroll deductions for public sector unions.

While unions have every right to solicit and represent their members, government should not be serving as the middleman for collecting their dues.

For decades, for example, the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) has relied on payroll deductions to automatically transfer their members’ dues and, in many cases, contributions to the KEA’s political arm, Better Schools Kentucky.

The KEA is a leftist organization which obsessively opposes reforming Kentucky’s public education system – even though nearly 70% of its students are not reading at an acceptable level – or giving parents options regarding where their children are educated.

While KEA’s activism is constitutionally protected free speech, it doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. And it certainly doesn’t mean that the millions of Kentuckians who disagree with the group’s radical liberty-denying agenda should have their tax dollars funneled by government to facilitate the union’s political efforts.

The General Assembly is considering Senate Bill 7, which would stop automatic transfers from employees’ paychecks to political action committees.

However, more needs to be done.

An investigation by the Bluegrass Institute discovered that the Kentucky Education Association directs nearly $4 out of every $10 in union dues collected from its members to the National Education Association, which uses these funds to support partisan liberal political organizations and activities.

As the final version of SB 7 is decided, lawmakers should strengthen the bill with an amendment that ends all government involvement in transmitting funds directly to unions, including payroll deductions for membership dues.

Nothing in the legislation denies or hampers public employees from joining unions. The bill simply gets government out of these transactions, requiring labor groups to collect dues directly from their members.

House Bill 26 would prohibit public funds from being used for lobbying purposes. Essentially it puts a stop to government lobbying government. Who could have imagined such a bill would ever be necessary?

Syndicated columnist George Will wrote “government negotiating with government: employees’ unions that are government organized as an interest group to lobby itself to do what it wants to do: Grow.”

His observation applies to Kentucky more than most of its citizens know.

Thankfully, reformers in our legislature want government to step back from being an organized interest group.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

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