In what is best described as a low-key but frank assessment of Wisconsin’s perilous fiscal condition, Governor Scott Walker delivered his budget address to those members of the state legislature that attended the session. Fourteen Democrat State Senators remained out of state, continuing their boycott of the democratic process. Judging by the tone of his voice and his demeanor, Mr. Walker gave no indication whatsoever that such antics would prove effective.
“Democracy does not just expect differences, it demands them,” said Walker.
It’s the manner in which we discuss and resolve those differences that leads to bold solutions and innovative reforms. I ask that we continue to be mindful of our differences–as well our similarities–in the coming days, weeks and months. Above all, let us not lose sight of the fact that we were each elected to represent the people of this state by participating in our democratic process.
Unfortunately, Senate Democrats have lost sight of the fact they represent all the people of Wisconsin, not just the public service unions. Yet as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reveals, such “loyalty” may be due to the fact that “one out of every five campaign dollars received by the 14 Wisconsin Democratic senators who have fled the state to protect union influence came from public-sector workers and their labor representatives.” Of the $1.9 million raised by these Senators since 2007, “at least $344,000 came from union and public sector employees.” The newspaper also notes that the total could be even higher because “the occupations of those donating less than $100 go unspecified.” The paper further reported that “one Democratic senator, Spencer Coggs of Milwaukee, received about two-thirds of his campaign dollars from public-sector workers and their unions.” (italics mine)
Perhaps this reality is why Governor Walker has proposed to get the state out of the business of collecting union dues from the checks of state workers, as well as making those dues optional for the workers themselves. While most of the media has been focused on the limiting of collective bargaining for salary increases as the key sticking point between Democrats and Republicans, this particular aspect of reform is far more critical.
A mandatory dues structure allows a union to collect money from its members, even those members who may have political leanings that are diametrically opposed to those of the union bosses, and fund candidates who are also opposed to their interests. (In Wisconsin, even public employees who don’t belong to a union are forced to make “fair share” payments, which unions claim are necessary because those workers benefit from collective bargaining.) By having government collect the dues, they are making that government an integral part of the Democrat campaign fund raising apparatus, irrespective of which party is in power. Since the Wisconsin state legislature and the governor’s office are currently controlled by Republicans, this means they are literally collecting dues that will be used to defeat them in a future election.
More importantly, by making dues optional, it will be revealed exactly where union members–as opposed to union bosses–stand, not just with respect to one political party or another, but with the unions themselves. It has long been part of the prevailing “wisdom” that union members march in lockstep with their leadership, no questions asked. Yet if that were truly the case, and union bosses were confident that their members would continue to pay the hundreds of dollars a year in dues that are now required, why would they care if dues were mandatory or not? What is being revealed by their resistance to such a proposal is a fear that the “solidarity” touted by union bosses is far from solid, and that their concern for the “rights of the working man” is based on coercion rather than the cultivation of good will among their members.
If what happened in Indiana is any indication, it is a well-founded fear. When mandatory dues collection in that state was ended in 2005 by Governor Mitch Daniels, 90 percent of the union membership stopped paying them. Since public service unions donate over ninety percent of their campaign contributions to the Democrat party all over the country, it becomes eminently understandable why Wisconsin Democrats fled the state. It also becomes glaringly apparent that collective bargaining between Democrat politicians and public service unions has more closely resembled, as columnist Pat Buchanan put it, collective collusion between two entities that are ostensibly supposed to be adversaries.
Governor Walker explained where such collusion leads:
We need the savings in the budget repair bill because Wisconsin faces a $3.6 billion deficit. Too many politicians have failed to tell the truth about our financial crisis. They left Wisconsinites in the dark about the extent of our fiscal problems. The facts are clear: Wisconsin is broke and it’s time to start paying our bills today–so our kids are not stuck with even bigger bills tomorrow…While families across this state were focused on making ends meet, the state government continued to grow well beyond our taxpayers’ ability to pay. But the time has come for us to make the tough choices necessary to put our state back on the path to prosperity. We must work together to bring our spending in line with reality. We were elected–not to make the easy decisions to benefit ourselves–but to make the difficult ones that will benefit our children and grandchildren.
Unions in Wisconsin have made a big deal out of the fact that they were willing to concede to the part of Governor Walker’s reform plank which mandates that unions pay a greater percentage of their health care and pension benefits, even though both concessions still keep them below the percentage that private sector workers pay for both. They likely realize that neither of those proposals do anything to reduce their power. Even a cap on wage increases indexed to inflation (unless voters approve a higher figure by referendum) is still a wage increase.
But the elimination of mandatory dues, collective bargaining for benefits and work rules, as well as a requirement that unions hold annual votes to remain organized? To prevent that from happening, unions and runaway Democrats are apparently ready to embrace the alternative which governor Walker explained is unavoidable: ”massive layoffs of teachers” necessary to balance a $3.6 billion budget deficit over the next two years. Estimates of those layoffs run from 6000-12,000 workers. Apparently, to maintain both the alliance between the Democrat party and public service unions, and the power of union bosses themselves, both entities are willing to sacrifice thousands of union jobs to preserve the status quo.
Yet Governor Walker reminds us that upending the status quo and entrenched interests is hardly new: ”Back in the 1980s–when I was growing up in the small town of Delavan–we faced similar circumstances in our state. A tough economy and a tight budget were the top issues 25 years ago…Tommy Thompson brought into office bold new ideas and strong leadership. At the time, defenders of the status quo took offense. But by the end of his first term, those reforms helped balance the budget and those policies helped the private sector create 258,000 new jobs. I remember Governor Thompsons’ optimism and the excitement he created when we turned our state around back then. If we did it a generation ago, we can do it again today.”
Perhaps the governor can. But as Fox News reported, at the conclusion of his speech, Mr. Walker left the statehouse accompanied by “very heavy security.” Democrat state Senators are still in hiding. Angry demonstrators are still camped out around the capitol. Wisconsin union members claim Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year budget plan “will damage the state’s residents and communities for generations,” and one Democrat in hiding, Jon Erpenbach, said he doesn’t believe that Walker will lay people off, or that his fellow democrats will return to Wisconsin. “What we’re seeing is a hostile corporate takeover of Wisconsin,” he added. The “hostile corporation” to which Mr. Erpenbacht is referring? The majority of the voting public in Wisconsin.
This fight–along with all the high-octane vitriol–is far from over.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.com.