Their Solution is Dilution

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If there was any confusion about what Massachusetts public employee union leaders mean when they keep saying they just want to be “part of the solution” to the struggles municipalities are having with health care costs, the budget just signed by Gov. Deval Patrick should remove it.

To them, being part of the solution means to dilute it – to water it down.

And Gov. Deval Patrick was happy to roll over for them and help with the dilution.

The first attempt at reform – a bill approved by the House – actually offered a credible solution by eliminating the automatic veto power Patrick had granted to the unions if municipal leaders tried to move them into the less expensive but still generous state Group Insurance Commission plan.

There had been some hope that cities and towns could collectively save $100 million – not big bucks statewide, given that the state budget alone is more than 300 times that, at $30.6 billion. Still, it was a step.

But it got watered down in the Senate. If labor and management reached an impasse over health care, the matter will now go to a review panel that will supposedly be tilted toward management, with one member from labor, one from the municipality and a third appointed by the governor’s budget chief.

But, given the governor’s stated “partnership” with labor, taxpayers have a right to be skeptical about how which way this panel will tilt.

And even that was too much for the governor who had implied as a candidate that he would help cities and towns cut property taxes. He diluted the Senate version some more. After all, it is not as though the hard-pressed taxpayers of the state should be his priority. His priority is to deliver the labor vote for his friend, President Barack Obama, in the next election.

There is the usual rhetorical lipstick being applied to this pig. Patrick is using his focus-group-tested lines. In Massachusetts, unlike those cretins in Wisconsin, “we turn to each other, not on each other.” Labor is “a partner, and they’ve been a great partner.” Labor is simply being granted a “seat at the table” and a “meaningful role” in shaping municipal health care benefits.

Outgoing Massachusetts AFL-CIO thug-in-chief Robert Haynes, after threatening to withhold union support from Democratic legislators in the House who dared to vote in the interests of all their constituents, was full of praise for the governor. And you know when Haynes is praising somebody, he has just rolled him.

“Finally, in the endgame, we still get to sit down with municipalities and bang out and bargain what health care looks like in that city or town,’’ Haynes said. “That’s all we ever wanted, was to have a voice.”

Right. Just a voice. For generations, public employee unions have been pretty much the only voice in collective bargaining with municipalities. Rather than a seat at the table, they have owned the table.

This final version of the “reform” takes a portion of the municipal savings and gives it right back to the unions. Yet there are still some hilariously claiming that municipalities will still save $100 million a year.

They won’t, of course. That is why the governor doesn’t talk so much about $100 million. He favors slippery, unquantifiable phrases like “jobs saved or created.” He says this will provide “meaningful savings” to cities and towns.

What does that mean? Whatever he wants it to mean.