Wednesday, April 25, 2012

“Wisconsin Recall”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Wisconsin Recall”
April 25, 2012

Everybody knows – we have been told time and again – that the only way out of the debt and deficit crisis is to make tough, unpopular decisions, whether it is reducing spending or raising taxes. Given governments propensity to spend is akin to an alcoholic’s dependency on booze, we all know the only answer is to remove the bottle. The problem is that when one does, the opposition comes out of the woodwork. No one knows that better than Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

When Scott Walker was elected Governor, he inherited a budget deficit of $3.6 billion. His crime is that, in an attempt to close the deficit, he chose to restrict collective bargaining rights, while providing choice to union employees – the choice, for example, to either join a union and pay the monthly fees, or not. He also required government employees to pay a larger share of their healthcare and pension costs. The Bill that caused so much consternation simply replaced collective bargaining with distributive bargaining, pushing down negotiations to the local school district level. Writing in the American Thinker a year ago, Tim Peterson, Robert Simandi and John Maddente noted: “public employment has become a fiefdom of privilege where, owing to binding interest arbitration based upon comparability often results in local government compensation exceeding ‘middle class’ standards.”

The other heinous thing that Governor Walker did was to require that state unionized employees (mostly teachers, of which there are 59,400) pay a portion of their retirement and health plans. Teachers belong to the Wisconsin state pension plan that requires a 6.8% employer contribution and 6.2% from the employee. However, according to the collective-bargaining agreement in place since 1996, the district pays the employees’ share as well. Under the same agreement, the union employees’ premiums for health insurance are also picked up by the taxpayer – an amount that equals about four times what the private sector employee is granted..

The election, which is expected to cost more than $100 million (and most of which is coming from out of state,) is fast approaching. Primary elections will be held on Tuesday, May 8 to select a Democrat for governor, lieutenant governor and four state senators. The general election will be held on Tuesday, June 5.

While the left wing press has risen in unison with national unions in condemning what they claim are violation of their rights, which is odd because neither the U.S. Constitution nor the Wisconsin Constitution identifies collective bargaining as a ‘right.’ In fact, that patron saint of the American labor movement, President Franklin Roosevelt warned: “All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations. The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for officials to bind the employer. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives.” We have the natural rights, embodied in our inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have Civil Rights that belong to every citizen. And we have political rights, for example the right to vote and the right to hold office; but no where is it given that any of us has the ‘right’ to collectively bargain.

In truth, the battle in Wisconsin is all about money, not wages and benefits for union workers, but for the dues that go to union leaders and which are primarily used as campaign contributions to elect Democrats who, in a symbiotic relationship with union members, keep one another employed. The dollars involved are massive, which is why unions spent so much money in Indiana and Ohio and are now doing so in Arizona and Wisconsin. There are currently about 15 million union members in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of whom are public sector workers. The average annual dues for a union member is $400, meaning that union leaders – more than half of whom are paid by taxpayers – have about $6 billion to disperse each year. In Wisconsin the 59,400 teachers pay an average of $1100 in annual dues, providing their leaders with a little more than $63 million of taxpayer money to distribute as they seem fit, again mostly to Democratic politicians in their consentaneous relationship with union members.

A key point, often forgotten by both elected and appointed government workers, is that they work for the people – not the other way around. And government workers have a responsibility to treat the dollars they receive in compensation and expense with the respect due someone else’s money. Unfortunately, as we see almost daily, politicians and government employees spend our money as though its supply were endless. They are quick to raise revenues and slow to cut spending. H.L. Mencken once wrote: “When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that an old source is abandoned. It merely means that politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had only one before.”

The recall election in Wisconsin has been deemed the second most important election in 2012, after the Presidential election. Because it precedes the broader election it may be more important. We face an unsustainable predicament. Union leaders have promised, and politicians have guaranteed, a future that is not possible. There simply is not enough money. It is not about what is fair. It is about math. Staying the course bankrupts first the municipality, second the state and lastly the nation. Before the dreams people are embracing become a nightmare, reality must be faced. Governor Scott Walker is on the front line. Within six weeks the nation will know which course Wisconsin has taken – a future that will move us forward, perhaps unevenly, and certainly unfairly, and likely not at the pace we might have chosen, or a course that condemns us to a fate that looks more like Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland or even, God forbid, France.

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