“If liberals were merely stupid, the laws of probability would dictate that at least some of their decisions would serve America’s interests.” – Ann Coulter quoting Joe McCarthy.
Wisconsin teachers threw a collective temper tantrum in Madison this week, with thousands calling in sick and forcing several school systems to close. Even The Milwaukee School System (MPS) was forced to shut down on Friday because over 600 teachers attended protests in Madison instead of their classrooms. This left MPS parents rushing to find alternative child care for children who had to stay home.
The issue is whether the State of Wisconsin can continue spending at the current rate, providing extraordinary health care benefits and generous pension plans to the thousands of public employees; plans which are paid for by Wisconsin tax payers. Wisconsin is experiencing a $3.5 billion hole in its fiscal budget and newly elected Governor Scott Walker intends to address the problem in several innovative ways, among them reductions in public sector benefits.
Walker’s proposal requires state employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to cover pension costs and about 12 percent to their health insurance. That would generate $30 million this fiscal year. Currently, most public workers don’t contribute anything to their pensions. The contributions would be considerably less than most private sector employees’ pay for similar benefit packages. In addition, Walker’s plan eliminates some, but not all, of the collective bargaining allowable under Wisconsin State law.
The Republican majority has the votes to pass Walker’s plan, but is one vote short of a quorum, so the all the Democrat senators jumped ship, fleeing to Illinois to avoid having to cast a vote. There are two possible reasons for the Democrat legislators’ bizarre response. First, most Wisconsin voters support Walker’s initiative, and a vote against the budget will come back to bite them in the next election cycle. Second, the Democrats are beholding to the public service and teachers’ unions for the lion’s share of their campaign funds. A vote for the proposed budget means that the unions could withdraw their support, drying up the campaign funds that the Democrats need for what is sure to be hotly contested campaigns in the next election cycle.
Walker had promised that he would revise the benefits for state employees during his campaign. Agree or not, one has to admire the fact that he intends to keep that promise, regardless of the pressure being exerted by the unions.
The state employees’ response seems to be having a backlash effect where Wisconsin residents, who may have been sympathetic toward the teachers and other public sector workers, are suddenly seeing the ugly side of public sector unions. It’s ironic that the right for state employee unions to collectively bargain began in the State of Wisconsin. But today most Wisconsin taxpayers, many of whom have experienced employment setbacks, are unimpressed by the whining taking place in Madison this week, even though President Barack Obama has weighed into the dispute, tacitly siding with the unions.
Walker’s response: “We are focused on balancing our budget. It would be wise for the government and others in Washington to focus on balancing their budgets, which they are a long way off from doing.”
There have been reports that the White House has been coordinating at least some of the protest activity. In addition, community organizers, union officials, and other activists have been converging on Madison from across the country in what appears to have become a showdown on a national stage, pitting state employee union members against their statehouse employers. Tea Party groups will be going to Madison this weekend to hold a counter protest which could lead to problems if the two groups converge.
In recent months private sector employees at companies like Mercury Marine, Harley-Davidson, Kohler Corporation and others have accepted cuts in pay and/or benefits in order to avoid layoffs or business relocation to other states. Wisconsin teachers have never experienced the necessity for these kinds of concessions, hence the protests. But if the public employees don’t accept the benefit reductions proposed by Walker, he says that he will be forced to lay off thousands of their union brothers and sisters.
It’s time for the teachers and other public sector employees to stop throwing temper tantrums and get back to providing the services for which they were hired. And it’s time for Wisconsin senators to grow up and face their responsibility to the voting public by joining in the debate on every bill proposed by the Republicans and cast their vote regardless of the outcome.