Welcome to the reckoning. We have met the fiscal apocalypse, and it is smack dab in the middle of the heartland. As Wisconsin goes, so goes the nation. Let us pray it does not go the way of the decrepit welfare states of the European Union.
The lowdown: State government workers in the Badger State pay piddling amounts for generous taxpayer-subsidized health benefits. Faced with a $3.6 billion budget hole and a state constitutional ban on running a deficit, new GOP Gov. Scott Walker wants public unions to pony up a little more. He has proposed raising the public employee share of health insurance premiums from less than 5 percent to 12.4 percent. He is also pushing for state workers to cover half of their pension contributions. To spare taxpayers the soaring costs of Byzantine union-negotiated work rules, he would rein in Big Labor’s collective bargaining power to cover only wages unless approved at the ballot box.
As the free-market MacIver Institute in Wisconsin points out, the benefits concessions Walker is asking public union workers to make would still maintain their health insurance contribution rates at the second-lowest among Midwest states for family coverage. Moreover, a new analysis by benefits think tank HCTrends shows that the new rate “would also be less than the employee contributions required at 85 percent of large Milwaukee-area employers.”
This modest call for shared sacrifice has triggered the wrath of the White House-Big Labor-Michael Moore axis. On Thursday, President Obama lamented the “assault on unions.” AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union bosses dubbed Walker the “Mubarak of the Midwest” while their minions toted posters of Walker’s face superimposed on Hitler’s. Moore goaded thousands of striking union protesters to “shut down” the “new Cairo” while the state’s Democratic legislators bailed on floor debate over the union reform package.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan spurned the opportunity to condemn thousands of Wisconsin public school teachers for lying about being “sick” and shutting down at least eight school districts across the state to attend capitol protests (many of whom dragged their students on a social justice field trip with them).