“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Larger View of Wisconsin's Teacher's Protests

This post written last week concerned the Wisconsin's teachers' protests. Afterwards, on Friday evening, I saw Frank Luntz give a report on one of the Fox News evening programs explaining that this was about the dumbest thing a municipal union could be doing right now.

What may not have sunk in sufficiently to the rest of us is that parents across Wisconsin, but I believe especially in Milwaukee, have seen their public schools closed as the teachers simply walked off the job to go protest at the state capitol building in Madison. This is the essence of why local, state and the federal government didn't allow unionization of and collective bargaining for public sector workers for so long.

John Fund wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial this weekend entitled What's at Stake in Wisconsin's Budget Battle, has noted,

"The Badger State became the first to pass a worker-compensation program in 1911, as well as the first to create unemployment compensation in 1932. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—the chief national union representing non-federal public employees—was founded in Madison in 1936. And in 1959, Wisconsin became the first state to grant public employees collective-bargaining rights, which influenced President John F. Kennedy's decision to grant federal employees the right to join unions three years later."

If you have lived in the Midwest, as I did growing up, you know that Wisconsin and Minnesota are the two very unusual states in the region. The latter has had a quasi-socialist party named the Democratic Farmer Labor Party since, I would guess, the dawn of the Progressive Era. Wisconsin continues to echo the LaFollette tradition of ultra-liberalism. So in that sense, these Wisconsin demonstrations by teachers doesn't surprise me.

However, I'm wondering if, by now, the rest of the populace hasn't grown sick and tired of being extorted by the municipal workers and their friends in the state's Democratic Party. To see why this may be so, here's another passage from Fund's piece,

"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.

Mr. Walker's argument—that public workers shouldn't be living high off the hog at the expense of taxpayers—is being made in other states facing budget crises. But the left observed the impact of the tea party last year and seems determined to unleash a more aggressive version of its own by teaming up with union allies. Organizing for America is already coordinating protests against proposed reforms in Ohio, Michigan and Missouri."

Thanks to research which became widely-circulated in the past two years, anyone with a brain who wants to know, knows that average public sector wages are now about 25% higher than those in the private sector, while they pay much less for better health and pension benefits.

This sort of outrageous compensation situation should, once and for all, turn voters against the notion that the public sector should be allowed to organize. Or that we should have so many functions even staffed by public sector workers, as opposed to simply bidding out contracts for the services to the private sector.

The sense of denial on the part of these public sector unions is incredible. For example, I see web ads by NJ's teachers unions accusing Christie's budget cuts of harming children. They conveniently forget or omit that the entire state is making sacrifices. It's not like any one part of the state's budget can be magically increased or left alone. Further, we're all paying for decades of political lies by both parties and ever-more generous settlements with the state's public sector unions. These promises will simply be unaffordable. People will move to escape higher taxes necessary to fulfill these extravagant contracts.

I suspect that many Wisconsinians are also much more upset than the liberal media will let us see over their Democratic state senators fleeing to Illinois to avoid doing their jobs to vote on, if against, Scott Walker's proposed bill.

How hard is it for state officials and, for that matter, local and federal ones, too, to make a best offer as follows: public sector employees of all sorts must make, as cash wages, pensions and health care benefits, no more than the average of private sector workers for each category, excluding these public workers? And that, furthermore, all benefits will be defined-contribution, not defined benefits, so that the annual state budget will pay all the compensation, with no out-year liabilities?

We have to get to a point where government employees are paid, totally, from current-year budgets, and no more than the average of similar workers in the private sector. No more subsidizing public sector workers with more generous compensation than the average taxpayer gets.

Between Wonderboy's cynical political calculations in his bloated budget for 2012, and teachers' unions in several states walking off the job and crying for special treatment and exemptions from financial pain amidst state budget deficits, I believe voters are finally getting the message: politicians of both parties in the federal and many state governments have lied and hidden real costs for far too long. Many politicians have looked on their jobs as permanent careers, and have used public sector union funding to help retain their jobs and recycle the money back to those employees in the form of overly-generous compensation agreements.

I suspect the tide is turning for good. Wisconsin's teachers seem to have roughly the same sense of the situation as do Wonderboy and the House Democrats. So it's timely they are demonstrating their tin ears on the subject of spending, taxes, entitlement spending and public sector unions just in time for the 2102 electoral cycle.

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