HARRISBURG — A state bill awaiting a final vote in the Senate would require labor contracts for state workers and school employees to be released to the public before they are approved.

Supporters call it a win for transparency.

Critics call it an unfair attack on public sector unions.

The measure would require any proposed collective bargaining agreement to be made available on the public employers’ publicly accessible website within 48 hours.

“Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent on contracts that are negotiated behind closed doors,” said state Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Fayette County, the author of the bill. “Providing greater openness is a core tenet of good government.”

An agreement would have to be posted online two weeks prior and 30 days following the signing of the collective bargaining agreement.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the state House but has not moved out of committee in that chamber.

“Public employers across the Commonwealth currently negotiate contracts costing billions of dollars without any public review or oversight,” Stefano said. “I believe taxpayers have the right to know how their hard-earned money is being spent.”

Under Stefano’s legislation, information posted would include a statement of the terms of the proposed collective bargaining agreement and an estimate of the costs to the public employer associated with the agreement.

The new legislation follows Act 15 of 2016, which requires pending government union contracts to undergo a fiscal analysis by the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) prior to their final approval. But that law only covers state contracts while Stefano’s bill would cover school union agreements too.

New collective bargaining contracts Gov. Tom Wolf negotiated with 11 unions will cost taxpayers an additional $561 million over three years, according to an analysis of IFO data done by the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank.

The IFO estimated that just the contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will cost $124 million in the coming fiscal year and $226 million in the year after that.

That contract covers 31,000 public employees and gave them 2.75 percent raises last October, another 2 percent raise this coming July and 2.5 percent raises in July of 2018.

David Fillman, executive director of AFSCME Local 13, which represents the workers covered by that contract, said conservative lawmakers are unfairly targeting labor contracts when there are other types of contracts that the government enters into without similar scrutiny.

“We have nothing to hide,” he said. “This is just another hoop for us to jump through.”

Fillman said that while his union didn’t welcome the IFO reviews of their contracts, they didn’t expend political capital to try to fight last year’s legislation.

Stefano’s plan, he said, “is just another poke in the eye for unions.”

The Pennsylvania School Board Association isn’t sold on the plan either, spokesman Steve Robinson said Thursday.

“Collective bargaining agreements generally require compromise from both parties, which makes the confidential nature of their work so paramount,” Robison said. “Taking that away threatens their ability to reach such compromises, and lessens the chance of reaching agreements that are good for school districts, school employees, and taxpayers.”

But, the move to let the public know what’s in contracts before they’re approved provides greater assurance that taxpayers’ interests aren’t overlooked, said Bob Dick, senior policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation.

“Good government is transparent government,” he said. “Pennsylvanians have a right to know how government decides to spend their money, but right now the process is shrouded in secrecy.”

The Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association supports the legislation as well, said Holly Lubart, director of legislative affairs for the media trade group.

“This kind of advance notice and proactive public access fosters an informed and actively involved citizenry, which is a hallmark of good government,” she said.

John Finnerty reports from the CNHI Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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