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King County faces serious budget pressures, and county residents already pay the highest taxes in the state. So people are wondering why King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn chose this moment to introduce a proposal (K.C.C. 3.16.050) that could increase county costs by expanding mandatory binding arbitration to more public-sector unions. Binding arbitration drives up costs because any dispute between the King County Council and the union is settled by an unelected third party, one that is not responsible to the public for the money needed to fund a labor agreement.
At a time of ongoing budget problems, councilmembers who write and approve the budget should have as much control over spending as possible so they can set clear priorities in funding vital public services.
All compensation-related decisions should remain part of the normal budgeting process, to allow elected officials to fairly weigh the money requests of unions against other priority programs. Dunn’s proposal would move the budgeting process in the opposite direction.
Binding arbitration goes against responsible budgeting because it ties the hands of councilmembers before the budget is even written. As a result taxpayers could be forced to shoulder higher taxes to fund the demands of an arbitrator who is not accountable to the public.
To add to the confusion, just what problem is the Dunn proposal trying to solve? Are the public unions seeking the binding arbitration benefit threatening to strike? Is there a shortage of qualified people to fill important public service positions? Has the county council treated its employees badly or is it threatening illegal lockouts? Are working conditions so unsafe that an outside arbitrator has to be brought in?
The answer to all these questions seems to be “no.” This county council proposal to give power to more unions by expanding binding arbitration is not good public policy, especially in a time of tight budgets.