The tax eaters' party
Scott Sala of Slant Point links to a City Journal article by Stephen Malanga about the political engine that drives politics in America's "bluest" cities. Malanga calls it the "New New Left," or "the tax eaters' party," a coalition of government-employee unions, social service agencies funded by government, and workers in the health care industry, which is increasingly funded and controlled by government. He sketches the history and growth of each component of the New New Left and its influence over municipal politics in many cities:
Increasingly in U.S. cities, the road to electoral success passes through the public- employee/health-care/social-services sector. In New York, for instance, more than two-thirds of city council members are former government employees or ex-workers in health care or social services....
One reason that these politicians have succeeded electorally is that those who work in the public sector have different voting priorities from private-sector workers or business owners. An exit poll conducted by City Journal of the 2001 New York mayoral election found that private-sector workers heavily backed Michael Bloomberg, the businessman candidate who had been endorsed by Rudy Giuliani and had run on a pledge of no new taxes (which he broke after his first year in office), while those who worked in the public/health-care/social-services sectors favored his Democratic opponent, who ran on a promise of raising taxes to fund further services. In the race, Bloomberg won among private-sector voters by 17 percentage points, while the Democrat won by 15 points among those who worked in the public/nonprofit sectors.
And of course public-sector workers, who know they are going to the polls to elect their bosses, make sure to remember to vote. Though they make up about one-third of New York City’s workforce, public/nonprofit-sector voters made up 37 percent of the electorate in the 2001 mayoral race.
His analysis is interesting, but maybe a bit alarmist. 37% of the electorate vs. 33% of the workforce doesn't seem terribly disproportionate, and if the Democrat had only a 15 point win among public-sector voters, it suggests that not all public-sector voters vote for whoever promises to increase public funding. It would be interesting to know what motivated the public-sector voters who picked Mike Bloomberg over Mark Green four years ago.
Still public employee unions have become very influential, especially in Democratic politics -- you won't get far without their endorsements and the help of their footsoldiers. I've heard that it's the only growing sector of the labor union movement. While I appreciate the complaints of Tulsa's city workers, who have borne most of the city's belt-tightening, I think it was a mistake for the City Council to approve unionization, even in a limited way. It will be difficult to say no to the next department that seeks unionization. A unionized city workforce will make it more difficult for the city's elected officials to make adjustments in order to cope with tight finances, and a city employee union would be an organized political force always pushing for expansion of city government.