Wagner ...  "almost like they’re brainwash- ing their members."
Wagner ... "almost like they're brainwash- ing their members."

In a full-page advertisement placed in local newspapers Thursday and Sunday, Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner blasted public sector unions yet again.

This time, he singled out the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and accused the statewide teachers union of waging war on taxpayers.

In the ad, Wagner writes that the union and others like it are the reason why "nothing has gotten done in Harrisburg."

Wagner also questioned how the association uses member dues and contributions to lobby against issues including pension reform, which Wagner supports.

Union spending: The PSEA has a long-standing tradition of advocating for issues it feels are important to public schools and students, said Wythe Keever, PSEA spokesman.

"Our members speak up for public education for their schools and for their students and for themselves," Keever said. "And apparently, in Sen. Wagner's world, that suddenly has turned into a war on taxpayers."

The ad includes a four-page email sent to PSEA members detailing how members' advocacy helped stop inadequate pension reforms, kept voluntary paycheck deductions in place and resulted in modest funding increase for schools this year, among others.

Wagner said he ran the ads to highlight where the money is coming from to defeat reforms he has been fighting for in Harrisburg. And based on the tone of a letter from PSEA president Mike Crossey, Wagner said, "they think they beat the governor."


Advertisement

Wagner said some PSEA funds are used to spread information against issues including pension reform; some funds advocate for candidates such as Tom Wolf for governor.

"It's almost like they're brainwashing their members," Wagner said.

PSEA funding: Wagner said his main concern is how PSEA funds are used, and if taxpayers are covering the tab for paycheck deductions for PSEA members. The law currently allows the PSEA to use some of those collected dues to communicate to its members and their families. For example, a portion of dues money can be used to tell PSEA members about which political candidates the PSEA endorses.

PSEA funds come in the form of union dues and political contributions, which are kept completely separate, Keever said. Teachers can elect to have their union dues taken directly from their paycheck, if their employer agrees to it, Keever said. Separate contributions to the PSEA's political arm, the Pennsylvania Action Committee for Education, can be made in the same manner.

The cost of those paycheck deductions is Wagner's sticking point, said Jason High, Wagner's chief of staff.

Paycheck deductions: State treasurer Rob McCord said in June those deductions only cost the state about $100 per year, but Wagner and his staff aren't so sure.

"We think that number is suspect," High said, saying McCord has been endorsed by the PSEA in the past and received political contributions from it and other unions.

High said aside from the amount of money the deductions cost, "any money that comes from taxpayers is unethical."

Keever said union members are taxpayers, too. But Wagner's advertisements aren't just about the paycheck system, Keever said.

"The real goal is to silence the opposition," he said. "They want to silence teachers' voices in regard to issues at their schools."

Feedback, previous statements: Wagner said he's received positive feedback from the ads, with many people "totally amazed" at the money the PSEA collects. In the ad, Wagner said the PSEA has more than 185,000 members and will collect almost $100 million in dues from its members in 2014.

The four ads cost about $5,000 and were paid for by funds raised for Wagner's campaign, said Amanda Davidson, Wagner's campaign manager. The campaign office sent out the same message to the 8,000 or so people who subscribed to news from Wagner's campaign website, scottwagnerforsenate.com.

The ads follow a string of other statements against unions made by Wagner in recent months, including making a comparison of unions to Adolf Hitler and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

— Reach Nikelle Snader at nsnader@yorkdispatch.com.