For unions, the screaming has just begun
In Madison, Wis., there is a televised struggle between the government employee unions and newly elected Governor Scott Walker (R). If you are willing to put on your thinking cap, this confrontation is instructive about just one way America has gone wrong in creating an addiction to other people’s money, and the screaming over budget cuts that surely will come.
Many states have realized one startling fact as a result of declining tax revenue and close examination of budget forecasts in these recessionary times: They have huge obligations to pay public employee pensions, obligations that cannot be met absent massive tax increases.
That means the current uproar in Madison, prompted by proposed budget cuts affecting those union employees, is a harbinger of many more collisions to come.
The Wisconsin teachers union at issue has managed to obtain for their teacher members a very nice package of generous salary, health care and pension, and — I need a drumroll here — zero employee contribution to either pension or healthcare. In other words, the union has done a tremendous job representing their members, at the expense of taxpayers, of course.
You might wonder why taxpayers in Wisconsin would agree to that package, and therein lies the rub.
The state has a deep Democrat streak and has cast its presidential votes for Democrats in the last six elections. The Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature have been stalwart union friends, and in 2009 passed laws sweetening the union deal. The state collects union dues as a deduction from member paychecks, passing the money on to the unions, who use that money to contribute heavily to Democrat election campaigns. Are you starting to smell a rat?
The real rat is collective bargaining for union wages and benefits, in which those same Democrats feather their nest by giving the unions generous terms at the expense of taxpayers; spending other people’s money has always been easy. Meanwhile, local counties and cities, the stakeholders, are stuck paying the tab without any say in those negotiations. That is precisely the reason 24 states limit or prohibit collective bargaining for public employee unions.
Enter stage left a newly elected Republican governor and legislators.
With this background, consider what Gov. Walker is proposing, while keeping in mind the coming struggle in many other states.
He proposes that collective bargaining be rescinded so that the unions will have to negotiate wages with the localities that pay the tab out of their own budget.
He is also proposing to break the cycle of corruption by telling the unions to collect their own dues and remove the state from the process, thereby giving the employees a choice to make in paying union dues that partially go to political campaigns, campaigns with which some members might disagree.
Finally, the governor is proposing the employees contribute 5.8 percent of their pay toward their pension, consistent with the national average for public employees, and 12.6 percent of their own healthcare cost, which is under half the national average.
This is precisely what the governor said in his campaign that he would do, and voters expect him to follow through.
Of course the unions are screaming bloody murder and applying their usual tactics of intimidation. Union members, many of them schoolteachers, left their jobs all week to protest, forcing three districts to close the schools while these teachers yell that the governor is interfering with educating the kids.
They gathered at the homes of their opponents to harass families, and gathered in the capitol building to make noise that made the business of legislation impossible.
But never mind, because 14 Democrat senators fled the state to hole up in a Rockford, Ill. Best Western hotel, thereby preventing a quorum and bringing the legislative process to a halt.
Meanwhile, supporters of the unions circulate amidst the crowds taking member names for friendly doctors to write fraudulent notes to support their calling in sick while they yell and chant their insistence on being treated honestly.
I wonder if they are aware Wisconsin has a very long-established strong set of labor laws protecting the rights of civil service workers? Somehow I doubt that would diminish their zeal for the union, ready to go to bat, maybe with goons swinging bats if necessary, on their behalf whether the budget is broke or not.
This finger in the eye of taxpayers should be a teaching moment for all kids – this is how adults should never behave.
The real shame, of course, is it took not only a broken budget, but an extraordinarily determined governor, to bring to the table this issue of taxpayers being screwed. It should never have been allowed to happen, no matter how fat the budget.
So, with this confrontation in Wisconsin over budget cuts, what did our President do as he struggled with the federal budget in far worse condition? You would expect a president in these budget crunch times to make hard choices and support governors doing the same in their state. But you would be wrong.
President Obama brazenly submitted to Congress a new budget that failed to address real federal problems and proposed even more new spending, kicking to the House of Representatives the hard work of making unpopular cuts to entitlements. Apparently, he just couldn’t locate his spine.
Then, in a spectacular display of chutzpah, President Obama expressed his dismay over unfriendly treatment of his union thug buddies, with nary a mention of Wisconsin taxpayers, and mobilized his forces to bus people to Wisconsin to bolster the protests and to operate phone banks generating opposition to the governor’s efforts to balance the Wisconsin budget. You can’t call President Obama bashful.
The current struggle in Wisconsin is much like the federal debt disaster. Deficit spending – other people’s money - is so much easier than hard choices to set priorities and limit spending to current revenue.
But as debt mounts and budgets are overtaken by impossible entitlement demands, we and our recalcitrant representatives will soon be dragged collectively, kicking and screaming, to make the hard benefit cut choices that should have been made long ago, and we will all scream when our favorite program is cut.
The screaming has just begun.
[Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City and occasionally contributes a column in The Citizen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]