America Needs to Take Lesson From Wisconsin

by Dick Baynton

According to the 2010 census Wisconsin is home to about 5.7 million citizens. The state’s voters are centrist in their political loyalties, having elected four Democrats for governor and four Republicans for that office in the last eight elections. Their voting record places Wisconsin in the ‘Purple’ column, being neither solidly ‘Red’ (Republican) or ‘Blue’ (Democrat).

When Scott Walker took office as Governor on January 3, 2011, Wisconsin had cumulative debt of more than $12 Billion. The Legislature estimated a $3.6 Billion shortfall in the 2012-2013 state budget. A report by the conservative group State Budget Solutions (SBS) estimated that total unfunded liabilities including employee defined pension obligations, Unemployment Trust Fund loans and other post-employment commitments totaled $3.4 Billion.

Across the US, membership in public sector unions have grown to 37% as private sector unions have declined to 6.9% of employed workers. The trouble with public sector unions is that they are sitting on both sides of the table during negotiations. As years pass, at some undistinguishable point in time the power, without accountability, migrates to the unions. The tail starts wagging the dog.

The circle of indulgence is never-ending. Union bosses and politicians negotiate progressively more restrictive work rules and increased benefits for their members. In exchange, a substantial portion of union dues is routed back to the politicians along with member’s votes. The process becomes an incestuous process in perpetuity. Even President Roosevelt once said that collective bargaining “cannot be translated into the public service.”

Teacher’s and public service worker’s pensions and other retirement benefits were huge financial burdens overwhelming Wisconsin’s financial stability. Upon taking office, Governor Walker, a Republican, was committed to changing the state’s financial structure. Benefits that had been accumulating over time were his first target. In March of 2011, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a bill that required government workers to contribute more for their pension and healthcare benefits. The state put an end to collecting dues from all union members. Additionally, most of their collective bargaining rights were severely curtailed.

Following the bill’s passage into law, membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) fell from 62,818 in March of 2011 to 28,745 in February of 2012. Membership in the Wisconsin AFT (American Federation of Teachers) declined from 17,000 to 11,000. Union bosses were alarmed.

Enough signatures were gathered to force Wisconsin voters to decide if they wanted to support changes made by the Governor and his allies in the Legislature. When the polls closed on June 5, 2012 the 44-year-old Walker became the first governor in the US to survive a recall election, winning by seven points.

The state cancelled ‘captive’ insurance through a company owned by the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) and opened bidding from other companies. WEA Trust, the union insurance company, was worth $316 Million, all funded by taxpayers and not available for direct use by schools and students. Competitive bidding for insurance is already saving $220 per student and is expected to save $600 Million over two years. One school district saved $537,000 while charging lower premiums.

Property taxes in Wisconsin have fallen by .4%, tax savings amount to over $1 Billion and counting, public employees and teachers are hired and fired based on performance and 62% of the employers in the state say they will be adding workers over the next six months.

Governor Haley, visiting from South Carolina said, “This election is bigger than Wisconsin. This is about the country. This is about when governors say they’re going to do something, and they actually have the courage to do it, we need to have their back.”

Amen