Local control preserved with Gov. Ritter’s veto

Gov. Bill Ritter’s veto Thursday of a firefighters’ collective-bargaining bill will likely cost him some labor union support as he prepares for his 2010 re-election campaign. But that veto will help taxpayers and elected officials in special districts and home-rule cities across the state, including Grand Junction.

Nine years ago, voters in Grand Junction overwhelmingly rejected a change in the city charter that would have allowed firefighters to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. If Senate Bill 180 had become law, it would have overturned that local vote, allowing collective bargaining by state dictate.

Respecting the will of local voters is just one reason we believe it was important for the governor to veto SB 180. Another reason was the control it would have taken away from local elected officials.

Although the bill was toned down from earlier versions, firefighters still wanted the right to bargain with city officials or fire district boards over what they see as appropriate equipment, training and staffing levels. And SB 180 would have given them the right to go to outside arbitration if they couldn’t reach agreement with the city or fire district.

But those are questions that relate directly to municipal and district budgets. If more equipment is required for this department, additional money will have to be raised or something will have to be cut elsewhere. How much money is spent, and where it is spent, are decisions that should be made by elected officials, not outside arbitrators.

We have never bought the claim, made by supporters of this bill, that firefighters needed SB 180 to ensure their safety on the job. As we said earlier, there has been no indication that municipalities and fire districts are endangering their firefighters by short-changing them on equipment or training.

Even so, to address that concern, Ritter has told the state Department of Public Safety to work with firefighters, municipalities and fire chiefs to develop a state certification program to ensure uniform standards for fire department safety. That may prove worthwhile for smaller departments, but if they have fewer than 25 employees they wouldn’t have been impacted by SB 180 in the first place.

More importantly, we’re pleased to see that Gov. Ritter recognized this bill for what it was — a serious threat to the right of local citizens and elected officials to control their own fire departments. He did the right thing in vetoing SB 180.


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