States-with-Heaviest-State-Local-Tax-Burdens

Taxpayers pay high price for union bosses’ monopoly control of public sector employees

Monopolistic Government Unionism Hurts State and Local Taxpayers

In High Government-Union-Density States, State and Local Taxes Consume, on Average, a 31% Higher Share of Personal Income Than in Low Government-Union-Density States

Click here to download this Government Union Monopolies Big Burdens for Taxpayers Fact Sheet.

For many years now, observers of American public policy have recognized that Big Labor bosses, and especially the bosses of government-sector unions, are our country’s most powerful lobby for Tax-and-Spend policies.

In an early 2011 commentary, for example, Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute pointed to union officials’ use of dues and fees that public employees were then forced to fork over as a job condition in more than 20 states “not only to run their daily operations but to wage political campaigns in state capitals and city halls.”[1]

(Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision,[2] argued and won on behalf of an independent-minded Illinois civil servant by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorney Bill Messenger, forced financial support for a union as a condition of public employment is today no longer legally permissible anywhere in the U.S.)

‘[P]ublic-Sector Unions Especially Have Become the Nation’s Most Aggressive Advocates For Higher Taxes’

Public-sector unions especially have become the nation’s most aggressive advocates for higher taxes and spending.  They sponsor tax-raising ballot initiatives and pay for advertising and lobbying campaigns to pressure politicians into voting for them.  And they mount multimillion dollar campaigns to defeat efforts by governors and taxpayer groups to roll back taxes.

Steven Malanga, Manhattan Institute

While government union chiefs push hard for higher taxes and more public spending in all 50 states, they naturally do so with greater success in states that authorize and promote union monopoly bargaining over public workers’ terms and conditions of employment.

Well over 30 states legally require public employers, under certain conditions, to recognize a government union as the “exclusive” (monopoly) bargaining agent for their employees with regard to pay, benefits and work rules.[3]

Meanwhile, several states, including Arizona, Arkansas and South Carolina, have no statewide statute or state constitutional provision forcing any category of government employer to engage in any form of bargaining with any union.  And one state, North Carolina, has a statutory prohibition against any government-sector bargaining.

One rough, but useful gauge of how much coercive power public-sector union kingpins wield in any state is the share of public servants who are subject to union monopoly bargaining as reported in the Union Membership and Coverage Database, available at www.unionstats.com.  The Database was constructed by economists Barry Hirsch of Georgia State University and David Macpherson of Trinity University.

Residents of Government-Union-Stronghold States Have to Work Nearly a Week-and-a-Half Longer to Pay Off Their State and Local Taxes, Compared to Residents of Low Government-Union-Density States 

By simultaneously reviewing government-union-density data for 2019 supplied by Hirsch and Macpherson and data on state-and-local tax collections for the same year as reported by the nonpartisan, Washington, D.C. based Tax Foundation,[4] one may get a grasp of just how valuable monopoly-bargaining privileges are for Big Labor Bosses who want taxes and government spending to be higher.

Among the 17 states with the highest share of public employees under union monopoly control, state and local taxes combined consumed 11.5% of all personal income in 2019.[5]  That represents an aggregate state-and-local tax burden 22% heavier than the aggregate burden for the 16 states ranking in the middle for monopoly-bargaining density, and 31% heavier than the average for the 17 states where government union bosses wield the least coercive power over public employees.

In other words, every year, residents of government-union-stronghold states have to work nearly a week-and-a-half longer just to pay off their state-and-local taxes, compared to residents of states where relatively few if any public employees are forced to accept union representation, like it or not, in order to keep their jobs.

Eleven of the 12 states with the heaviest aggregate state-and-local tax burdens are high government-union-density states.  In stark contrast, just one of the 23 states with the heaviest overall state-and-local tax burdens is a low government-union-density state.

Big Labor-Perpetuated ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Pay Scales Reduce the Quality of Public Services Even as They Raise Costs For Beleaguered Taxpayers

What quality services do residents of Big Labor-dominated states get in exchange for paying higher taxes?  The fact is, many workplace policies regarding employee pay, benefits, and work rules that union officials commonly advance by wielding their monopoly-bargaining privileges reduce the quality of public services even as they raise costs for beleaguered taxpayers.

One especially egregious example is the so-called “single salary schedule” under which government schools “pay all teachers using a single salary formula based solely on years of work experience and the highest degree they obtained, not the subject in which they earned the degree,” as economist Andrew Biggs and political scientist Jason Richwine explained in a commentary they recently coauthored for Real Clear Policy.[6]

Since “exclusive” union bargaining first became widespread in public education in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s, Big Labor bosses affiliated with the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) have been the single salary schedule’s “most vocal proponents.”[7]

As a consequence of the union boss-backed single salary schedule, salaries for elementary school teachers, who are typically education, liberal arts, or social science majors, are highly competitive almost everywhere in the country.  In fact, in many American communities there is a chronic surplus of such teachers as well as middle- and high-school teachers in fields like English, social studies and phys-ed.  Meanwhile, in the same communities there are often chronic shortages of qualified teachers of challenging subjects like calculus, physics and chemistry as well as for Special-Ed and English as a Second Language classes.[8]

Connecticut public schools . . . received 167 applicants per open elementary school teaching spot, with a median applicant quality of 4.5 on a 1-to-5 scale.  And yet those schools received only 17 applicants per high school science opening, with applicant quality rated just two out of five.

Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine, 2015

Of course, the routine failure of supply to meet demand could be remedied by “a simple alteration to teacher pay schedules, where STEM degree holders [and teachers willing and able to educate non-English speakers and other special-needs children] receive a salary premium.” 

But top teacher union bosses categorically oppose such a reform,[9] and in jurisdictions where Big Labor wields monopoly-bargaining power over how public school employees are compensated, it is unlikely to happen at all, or to be sustained if it somehow does happen.

Consequently, in states where union monopoly bargaining in the government sector is authorized and promoted, hard-working business employees and employers get the worst of both worlds: burdensome taxes, and public services that are in many cases furnished by civil servants who aren’t really qualified to do the jobs with which they are tasked.


[1] “The Showdown Over Public Union Power,” Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2011.

[2] 585 U.S. ___, (2018).

[3] See, e.g., the graphic summary of state labor laws governing public K-12 employees prepared for Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism (CEAFU.org) by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorney Milton Chappell.  It may be viewed at https://ceafu.org/2020/09/30/teacher-monopoly-bargaining-compulsory-unionism-deduction-revocation-table/ on the CEAFU web site.

[4] Erica York and Jared Walczak, “State and Local Tax Burdens, Calendar Year 2009,” Tax Foundation, March 2021.

[5] In addition to the Hirsch-Macpherson Database and the York-Walchack analysis for the Tax Foundation, the Institute used the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 population data for the 50 states to make the calculations cited in this paragraph.

[6] “The Teacher Pay Gap Is Really About the STEM Salary Premium,” April 21, 2021.

[7] Julia Koppich, “Teacher Unions and New Forms of Teacher Compensation,” Kappan, May 2019, pp. 22-26.

[8] Leib Sutcher, Linda-Darling Hammond, and Desiree Carver-Thomas, “Understanding Teacher Shortages: An Analysis of Teacher Supply and Demand in the United States,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, April 8, 2019.

[9] Mike Antonucci, “NEA on Merit Pay, Without the Sugar Coating,” Education Intelligence Agency, March 11, 2009 blog post.