Raegan Weber: Setting the record straight

Over the past several weeks, there has been great speculation, poor reporting, and gross misrepresentation of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s positions on pension reform and collective bargaining. The erroneous claims have traveled through the blogosphere and grabbed the attention of mainstream media. Unfortunately, due to little or no fact-checking, ALEC’s positions and activities have been misreported. ALEC is setting the record straight.

With more than 2,000 members, ALEC is the nation’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators. ALEC’s legislative members are comprised of both Democrats and Republicans who share the same ideals. ALEC does not coordinate with any political party. ALEC is a state legislative organization with the goal of promoting Thomas Jefferson’s principles of limited government, free markets, and federalism through sound policy solutions. This goal is shared by like-minded lawmakers across the United States.

ALEC provides an opportunity for its members to learn from each other and policy experts representing a variety of issue areas affecting our citizens and our economy. This interaction enables legislators to learn best practices and successes from other states. Legislators present, suggest and debate sound policies, which may be adopted as ALEC model legislation. Legislators should have the best information possible when making policy decisions. Our policies and initiatives are public and we are proud to support our legislators as they carry out ALEC principles. The complexity and diversity of ALEC’s public and private sector members logically suggest that there are differing opinions on almost every policy position. ALEC is also pleased to provide an environment of education to help them find sensible policy solutions to today’s complex issues.

How does pension reform and collective bargaining fit in? ALEC has been educating its members for years on sound budget practices; this includes pension reform and transparency in collective bargaining. Unsustainable cost drivers threaten the financial solvency of the states. ALEC encourages states to explore every option possible to balance budgets, including pension reform and utilizing new approaches for pension funding, such as defined benefit plans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor, as of December 2010, state and local government employees received benefits that were 69 percent higher than those in the private sector. Taxpayer dollars are currently subsidizing the majority of state public employee pensions and benefits (9 states have defined-contribution plans). Defined-contribution 401(k) style plans allow employees to contribute as much or as little as they want while still receiving some support from the state. They also give employees the opportunity to invest in what’s best for them, and if public employees change jobs or relocate, their funds are portable.

State legislators are entrusted with the enormous responsibility of appropriating citizens’ funds. ALEC supports budget transparency in the proper use of taxpayer dollars. When state employee unions collectively bargain with the people’s money, this should be a transparent process. Citizens have the right to know where their money is going and how it is being used.

ALEC has a policy initiative on pension reform and balancing budgets. The Budget Reform Toolkit and Other Post Employee Benefits publications were both nationally announced and mailed to all our legislative members. Rich States, Poor States is used by state legislators throughout the country to find sound, conservative, successful budgeting practices. Each of these publications discusses pension reform. Our policy initiatives, publications and press releases on these issues can all be found on ALEC’s website for anyone’s use. These are hardly the actions of a secretive organization.

Accusations of ALEC secretly meeting with governors, ALEC running and coordinating ground campaigns against public employee unions, and ALEC wanting to eliminate public employee unions are first and foremost not true. ALEC’s States and Nation Policy Summit coincided with newly-elected governors’ meetings at the White House in December, but there were no meetings between governors and ALEC staff on any policy. If a governor’s policies fall under the Jeffersonian principles of limited government, free markets and federalism, and ALEC has policies similar to those being proposed, then ALEC proudly supports those policies. ALEC does not have satellite offices. We have 27 full-time employees that work in Washington, D.C. ALEC has not sent out “ground troops” to Wisconsin. ALEC is not coordinating a ground campaign on collective bargaining.

These wild accusations have caught the attention of the mainstream media. Quite a few reporters from state and local media have called or emailed with an unfortunate biased agenda. ALEC has been working with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal over the past couple of weeks to satisfy their inquiries. Both nationally renowned, leading papers have decided after extensive research, interviews and fact checking that there is no story. ALEC appreciates their fact-finding missions and will continue to enjoy good relationship with both newspapers.

ALEC legislators and ALEC employees are proud of our positions and policies. ALEC is for effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars with transparency in budgeting and collective bargaining. ALEC is for public employees having flexible, manageable and sustainable pension and health plans. ALEC is proud to be the only state legislative organization that embraces the Jeffersonian principles of limited government, free markets and federalism with the policy solutions to support these ideals.

For a more in-depth ALEC statement, go to www.alec.org/thetruth.

Raegan Weber is the senior director for public affairs at ALEC. She has been a professional communicator for nearly 14 years and was a public employee in the State of Georgia and in the federal government with the George W. Bush administration.

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