Politics & Policy

Raging Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has put a sensible proposal on the table to improve his state’s alarming fiscal situation — and the Democrats, who are largely to blame for it, have run for the hills.

Calling to mind a maneuver that Democrats in the Texas legislature pulled a few years back, Wisconsin’s Democrats have fled the capitol, and in some instances have fled the state, in order to subvert the very democratic process from which their irony-immune party derives its name. And the exquisitely temperate ladies and gentlemen who were just the day before yesterday lecturing us about the allegedly corrosive tone of conservative political discourse are parading through the mean streets of Madison waving placards bearing the name and likeness of Adolf Hitler, and denouncing Governor Walker as a Nazi.

Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist government murdered some 6 million Jews and waged a bloodthirsty war for world domination under a “Thousand-Year Reich.” Governor Walker has proposed that government employees in Wisconsin pay 12.6 percent of the cost of their insurance premiums, which in the minds of Wisconsin Democrats apparently amounts to more or less the same thing. President Obama, himself fresh off lecturing the nation about its tone, chimed in with a predictably tin-eared characterization of this modest initiative as an “assault.”

Wisconsin faces a $3.6 billion budget shortfall over the next two years and an immediate shortfall of some $137 million. Like most state governments, Wisconsin spends a very large part of its discretionary budget on compensation for government employees, and it is inevitable that the indefensibly inflated pay of the bureaucratic estate will come under the gaze of the budget-balancers.

Governor Walker’s plan addresses both the immediate problems of health-care and pension costs and the fundamental cause of those problems: laws that give the government employees’ unions expansive, extortionate powers. He proposes to curtail the collective-bargaining authority of government employees’ unions other than those representing police and firemen, leaving intact their power to negotiate over wages but putting pensions and health-care subsidies behind a fiscal firewall. Many other states have similar arrangements. If the plan passes, Wisconsin’s government workers will be treated a bit more like private-sector workers in that they will be asked to contribute a tiny bit more to their own health-care and retirement costs. One suspects that many in Wisconsin’s struggling private sector would be very happy to pay only 12.6 percent of their own health-insurance costs, but, under the iron fist of Wisconsin’s purportedly Hitleresque Republicans, even this modest measure comes with a sweetener: no layoffs or furloughs for government workers. One suspects that many in Wisconsin’s struggling private sector also would be very happy to have government-guaranteed job security — with a fat, government-guaranteed pension at the end of it, no less.

Wisconsin Democrats (and their media surrogates) blame the problems on the state’s recent establishment of health-savings accounts and tax revenue lost through credits to businesses that relocate to the state or create new jobs there. And while those programs do have an impact on tax revenue, that line of criticism only makes sense if one assumes that the public-sector unions have a prior claim on both private and public money in Wisconsin. Such thinking is, of course, a fundamental part of the problem at hand.

To put it charitably, there is an enormous disparity between the economic situation that the people of Wisconsin must endure and that of the Democratic-union apparatus that has long lorded over them. Wisconsin’s average income is 21st in the nation, but its legislators are the ninth-highest-paid in the country, and they received a generous pay increase when last the Democrats were in charge. Those same Democrats owe it to their own constituencies to show up for the job they are being paid to do.


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