The Agenda

Quick Post on State Budgets and Collective Bargaining

Ezra Klein has very kindly linked to one of my tweets, but I’m afraid it only gives a partial picture of what I’ve said on the subject of collective bargaining rights in that forum. And I’m sorry to say that many readers will see the link and draw incorrect conclusions regarding what I actually think. (I should note that this was almost certainly not intentional. I assume that Ezra hasn’t seen the various other tweets, and that he was making the narrow point that at least one self-identified conservative has referred to Virginia, a purple state that was famously governed by popular Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.)

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to destroy most of the public-employee unions in Wisconsin is being presented as a way to cut state budget deficits. It’s not really that, for reasons I’ve noted previously. Another way to see that point is to look at Virginia, which, as many conservatives have pointed out, doesn’t have collective bargaining for public employees. So how’s their budget looking right now? Er, bad.

Here is the tweet he cites:

And VA public workers don’t have collective bargaining rights. (2/2)

Here are a few others, from the same stretch of time, in reverse chronological order:

Even without CBR, as a smart friend notes, unreformed public sector compensation is a huge strain on VA and other states.

If Walker’s assault succeeds, WI might one day look like VA, a dystopian hellzone with a fast-growing population & good public services.

That’s one reason why there’s no pension crisis for federal workers.

And as @jbarro points out, federal employees have extremely limited CBRs. I’d be content with rolling state CBRs to the federal level.

And right before the linked tweet:

Is VA, home of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, a Dickensian wasteland? It’s one of the best-managed states in the country. (1/2)

These might be the most salient tweets, in proper chronological order:

My take: If anything Walker should go further: no layoffs and no furloughs? Public safety workers untouched? Some argue that … (1/2)

… collective bargaining isn’t the sole driver. It’s true! But it makes a significant difference. Don’t exempt public safety workers. (2/2)

Do you get the sense that the paragraph above gave a sound characterization of what conservatives are saying when they raise the fact that Utah and Virginia, widely considered to be among the two best-managed states in the union, don’t give collective bargaining rights to public employees?

I definitely do not think that CBR for public employees are the only problem facing state governments. Does anyone? Does Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, believe that to be true? And does the absence of CBR for public employees guarantee that states will raise enough revenue to pay for the public services elected officials have put in place?

Please take careful note of how the conversation is shifting. 

One of the most insightful treatments I’ve seen of how CBR shapes public spending patterns was published last spring in the Washington Post.

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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