When I was in college back in the late sixties, as student riots and massive union strikes regularly crippled the French economy, I recall thinking it was great living here in the U.S., where a free-enterprise economy insulated us from such counter-productive and shameful displays of civic greed. What a difference four decades of ever-expanding government can make.
Last year’s riots in Greece, and violent demonstrations in the U.K. – all birthed by the anger felt by students, teachers, union workers and others who have grown increasingly dependent on government subsidies and hand outs, and who now face modest cuts to those benefits – are being played out in America’s heartland. Teachers and public-employee unions in the Badger State are angrily protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s modest austerity plan that would curtail public-sector union power in some areas, and require those workers to pay a small part of their health care benefit package and slightly increase their contribution to the very generous pension plans they enjoy.
You’d think by the response, the governor was forcing union members to surrender their first-born child to the state.
Yet, even more shameful than the vehement union reaction to these proposals – which includes publicly comparing Walker to Adolf Hitler – has been the cowardly reaction by Wisconsin’s Democratic state legislators (Walker is a Republican). Rather than work with the new governor and Republican majorities in the legislature, the Democrats simply turned tail and ran to the neighboring state of Illinois; thereby denying the governor and their Republican colleagues the necessary majority to vote on budgetary matters.
Just how draconian are Walker’s proposed measures to help close Wisconsin’s burgeoning, $3.6 billion deficit? In fact, not draconian at all. The new governor’s first-ever budget proposal would require government workers to contribute a modest 5.8 percent of their pensions, and 12 percent of their health insurance benefits; both amounts below the national average. The proposal also would limit the ability of public-sector unions to collectively bargain; thereby helping to ensure taxpayers are not held hostage to unreasonable demands on their wallets in the future.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Walker is promising no layoffs or teacher furloughs in exchange for passage of these reforms. However, he has warned he will be forced to layoff some 6,000 state workers if action is not taken. The Democratic legislators who fled the state apparently would rather see public employees laid off, than support modest benefit contributions by employed state workers.
Public-employee unions, grown arrogant from decades of ever-more generous benefit packages, are fighting tooth and nail to hang onto their gains. They exhibit no willingness to help shoulder any of the costs the taxpayers at-large have to pay in these rough economic times.
Walker is not alone in recognizing that steps must be taken to rein in such largesse. Even California and New York are entertaining minor reforms to ease the burden that public-sector benefits have imposed on their budgets.
Whether the Wisconsin Governor and his legislative colleagues will prevail in this epic battle remains unclear; and the outcome will have significant ramifications in Ohio and other states that are heavily union-laden, as well as in the nation’s capitol. But the battle now being waged in America’s heartland offers a focused glimpse into our country’s future.
Whether we become another France – a country long held hostage to powerful unions and debilitating social benefit programs – or begin the slow but vital climb back up the ladder from the depths of government entitlements and deficit-spending, may be determined right here, right now, in Madison, Wisconsin.
by- Bob Barr, The Barr Code