Wisconsin gov’s collective-bargaining reforms have been resounding success
Wisconsin struts onto the stage Tuesday in the drama known as the crisis of the entitlement state in the Western world. The state’s recall election of Gov. Scott Walker upstages, however briefly, the story line of Illinois trying to come to grips with its unfunded $83 billion liability in government employee pensions, the comedy of Gov. Jerry Brown pursuing an extravagantly expensive high-speed train to nowhere as California sinks under a $16 billion budget deficit, and the starring role of Greece in the wrenching euro zone tragedy.
Passions typical of a Greek tragedy are driving polarized voters to the polls in Wisconsin to determine Walker’s fate. He is, according to your world view, a heroic figure who has tamed the avaricious public sector unions leeching off the taxpayer or a villain spearheading an assault on workers, their rights and their unions. The curious thing is that, judging from the campaign rhetoric, the issue that prompted today’s recall election, Walker’s reform of public employee unions, isn’t at center stage in the debate. It hardly got mentioned in the closing weeks of the campaign by Democrat Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee, to unseat Walker. Rather than campaign on collective bargaining, Barrett talked about the economy and jobs, women’s issues and an investigation into Walker’s aides during his previous elective office in Milwaukee.
The reason for that is quite simple: Walker’s collective bargaining reforms turned out to be a resounding success.
Public service employees are finally making reasonable contributions to their pension and health benefits. Government employee unions no longer dictate work rules. Local school districts and governments with new latitude to renegotiate contracts have saved Wisconsin taxpayers $1 billion, according to the governor’s office.
Collective bargaining for government employees can never survive much scrutiny. Their unions are by their nature in conflict with the interests of taxpayer. Unions use their numbers, their voting booth clout and their members’ dues to elect politicians who then return the favor in contract negotiations. Liberal good government types constantly advocate bans against government contracts for businesses that make significant campaign contributions to politicians. But they fall silent on the inherent conflict of interest in labor contracts negotiated by public employee unions and the politicians they help elect. Talk about a corrupt bargain — that’s the very definition of one.
Taxpayers have grown weary of financing generous benefits that most of them never see in their lives. President Barack Obama must recognize that voter attitudes on this are changing. Despite the appeals of Wisconsin Democrats for a big show of support, the closest Obama came to Wisconsin was flying over the state recently on his way to a fund-raising dinner in Minneapolis.
Walker never trailed in the polls but some surveys showed a tightening of the race in the final days. The voters have the final say Tuesday. They will decide whether Wisconsin will lead the nation in rescuing taxpayers from grasping government employee unions and the self-serving politicians who have appeased them by caving to their demands or return to policies that risk bankruptcy for government budgets, endangering vital government services and leaving taxpayers with the staggering bill.