If there was any question in your mind, a recent Forbes article pretty much laid out the issues in Wisconsin.
This is NOT about salaries.
The Wisconsin public service unions have already agreed to wage concessions.
It is also NOT about budget shortfalls.
Wisconsin’s current budget is balanced.
It is partly about pension obligations.
ALL of the money going into the union pension plans comes from the salaries of those participating in the pension program. There is NO taxpayer money currently funding any pension payments to retired union workers.
The problem is that the State of Wisconsin decided like a lot of other states that it wanted to be in the insurance business and they weren’t very good at it. Now hard times have hit the state and they aren’t sure that they will have the money required to fund pension obligations at some point in the future.
That’s not the fault of the union. They have certainly kept their part of the bargain. They paid in their money and the state promised to use that money to fund their retirement. The terms and conditions are clear. It’s all in the contract between the state and the union.
Rather than figure some honorable way to keep the state’s obligations to their public sector workers, the new Governor has manufactured a crisis in an attempt to break the union, void their contracts, and strip public workers of the right to organize and bargain as a group in the future.
But that wasn’t enough. The right wing media has jumped on the bandwagon and has been demonizing union members as greedy, lazy, and incompetent.
This is particularly interesting in the context of the last two years of Republican championing of bailouts and tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. I haven’t done the math, but I suspect that the amount of money that we are spending on those tax cuts could easily fund the pension shortfalls that states like Wisconsin are projecting.
This isn’t even the most disturbing thing that the new governor has proposed. Besides slashing budgets and handing out huge tax breaks to corporations, he has a new rule on his desk which would require a supermajority (2/3 vote) to increase taxes. This raises hubris to dangerous level. He is so convinced that he is right that he is willing to sacrifice the basic democratic process of majority rule in order to protect legislation he was able to enact during a brief period where he has the votes to do it.
Why would he even suggest something like unless he was fearful of being turned out of office?
This is how demogogs operate, not elected officials. They get elected in a wave of discontent and then dismantle the process by which they and their policies can be voted out.
Can you imagine the uproar if Obama even suggested a similar rule regarding changes to his healthcare legislation?
Current polls show strong support for the public sector workers position even though there wasn’t much support for unions in general. I predict that that Governor Walker will fail and as will similar attempts in other states. We will see a resurgence of organized labor to make sure that the working man’s story gets out there. This may spell the beginning of the end for the tea party too. They are going to find themselves more and more out of step with mainstream America and will find increased organized opposition to their radical conservative agenda.