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2011 Wisconsin Budget Battle

It's the voters vs. the unions in a battle for who controls state government.

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The status quo is no longer acceptable.

  • Feb 19, 2011
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A funny thing happened in Wisconsin in the 2010 mid-term elections.  A state reputed to be one of the bastions of liberalism and one that had been dominated by Democrats for decades elected a Republican governor.  Scott Walker was elected with 52.3% of the vote in this normally blue state while Republicans also gained control of the state legislature.  Throughout the fall campaign Republicans made no secret of the fact that public employee unions with their excessive benefit packages and bloated pensions would be among the primary targets as they pledged to return fiscal sanity to their state.  Faced with a $137 million budget deficit Governor Walker has proposed that union members contribute 5.8% of their income towards their pensions and 12.6% towards health insurance. Furthermore, the governor's proposal would eliminate collective-bargaining rights for all public employees except local police and firefighters and members of the state police. Desperate times call for drastic measures and Governor Walker has wasted little time in bringing his proposals to the floor of the legislature for consideration. According to the governor the alternative would be to lay off up to 6000 state workers.  Meanwhile, the union bosses fail to acknowledge there is a problem and charactorize the governor's efforts as nothing less than "union-busting'.  And faced with imminent defeat the 14 Democratic members of the Wisconsin State Senate have simply fled the state in an attempt to prevent a vote from taking place. This is very bad form and a strategy that I believe will come back to haunt them in the weeks and months ahead.

To be sure Wisconsin is not the only state facing a day of reckoning for past budgetary indiscretions and miscalculations.  Several states including California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and my own home state of Rhode Island are teetering on the brink of insolvency.  The situation cries out for political leaders with the courage to admit that we must drastically change our ways while accepting the political consequences of taking a stand.  Like his Republican counterpart Chris Christie in New Jersey Governor Scott Walker has emerged as one of those leaders.  This governor understands that the average Wisconsonian who toils in the private sector has had to deal with relentless downsizing, stagnant wages, and rising health insurance premiums.  Most of them have no pensions and are required to fund their own retirements through 401(k)'s and similar plans.  These folks are sick and tired of seeing their relatives, friends and neighbors who are members of public sector unions earning higher wages and receiving much more generous benefit packages than they do.  Furthermore, these people understand that the public sector is a haven of security and stability, where connected people have jobs for life and performance measurements are rare.  And for many the straw that breaks the camel's back is the fact that many state workers can retire in their mid-50s on close to full pay and, therefore, can receive pensions for more years than they have worked, even though they are young enough to take another job.  I must tell you that in the circles I travel in about the only people buying new vehicles, making extensive home improvements and taking lavish vacations are teachers and other government employees.

The lines have now been drawn and the battle begun.  President Obama has offered his support of the protesters while the Democratic National Committees "Organizing For America" arm is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.  Meanwhile, The Tea Party is mobilizing and urging members to head to Madison to support the Governor and the State Senate.  I think that in this instance history and events are on the side of the Republicans.  Led by the emergence of the Tea Party movement and fueled by the overreaching of Barack Obama and the Democrats in Washington I firmly believe that a majority of average Americans have come to the conclusion that substantial change is required and that it must happen NOW.  Actuaries from all levels of government have been warning us for years now that the we simply do not have the money to pay all of the benefits that have been promised to government employees.  As far as I am concerned responsible union leaders in Wisconsin and in states around the nation must recognize this simple reality and try to cut the best deal they can get for their members.  Now if the rumors are true, Congress has been quietly exploring legislation that would allow the states to declare bankruptcy.  Were that to happen some of these unions could lose EVERYTHING.  I will continue to watch as these fascinating events unfold in the coming days and weeks.  This is a national debate that we have needed to engage in for quite some time. Hopefully, we can begin to solve some of out financial problems and get our country back on the road to prosperity.
The status quo is no longer acceptable. The status quo is no longer acceptable. The status quo is no longer acceptable. The status quo is no longer acceptable.

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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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What's at Stake in Wisconsin's Budget Battle

Who's in charge of our political system—voters or unions?


This week President Obama was roundly criticized, even by many of his allies, for submitting a federal budget that actually increases our already crushing deficit. But that didn't stop him Thursday from jumping into Wisconsin's titanic budget battle. He accused the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, of launching an "assault" on unions with his emergency legislation aimed at cutting the state budget.

The real assault this week was led by Organizing for America, the successor to President's Obama's 2008 campaign organization. It helped fill buses of protesters who flooded the state capital of Madison and ran 15 phone banks urging people to call state legislators.

Mr. Walker's proposals are hardly revolutionary. Facing a $137 million budget deficit, he has decided to try to avoid laying off 5,500 state workers by proposing that they contribute 5.8% of their income towards their pensions and 12.6% towards health insurance. That's roughly the national average for public pension payments, and it is less than half the national average of what government workers contribute to health care. Mr. Walker also wants to limit the power of public-employee unions to negotiate contracts and work rules—something that 24 states already limit or ban.

OpinionJournal.com columnist John Fund on the politics of ...

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