Thursday, February 17, 2011

Madison Mayhem

Demonstrators inside the rotunda
of the state Capitol in Madison, WI
Yes, I am delving into politics . . . at risk of offending my family and friends who are current and former teachers in the Wisconsin public school system, I have to say I hope that Wisconsin's Governor, Scott Walker, does not cave in. As I write this post, Wisconsin's state Capitol building in Madison is full of protesters up in arms over collective bargaining legislation slated for a vote today. And the Democrats have bolted to avoid this vote.

Police officers have been sent out to find all of the Democrat state Senators who decided not to show up for work today. No one seems to know where the missing Senators are located. It is rumored that they boarded a bus and left the state entirely. Republicans do hold a majority but at least one Democrat Senator must be present for a vote. 

This controversial legislation would eliminate collective bargaining rights for state government employees (this includes public school teachers), require public employees to pay for half of the costs of their pension plans, and pay for 12.6% of their heath care coverage. It would save the state $30 million by July 1 and $300 million over the next two years. The state currently has a $3.6 billion budget deficit. Under this plan state worker's would see a hike of 8% to their health care and pension costs. Unions could still represent workers but they couldn't force employees to pay dues or bargain for pay increases above the Consumer Price Index unless it was approved by a public vote.

This has resulted in 3 days of protests and hundreds of teachers calling in sick, forcing school districts to cancel classes. Students across the state have abandoned their classrooms and are protesting the proposed legislation. However, the Democratic National Committee has admitted that they have activated their phone banks and are busing protestors into Madison.

Personally, I think that public employees have a sweet deal given their Cadillac pension plans, high quality health care plans, and seemingly universal prescription drug coverage. Please don't even get me started on health care coverage and how unfair it is. I am self-employed and paying nearly 100% of my health care and prescription costs for myself and my family. I really don't want to hear about how "unfair" it is to make public employees pay for a meager 13% of their own health care. As for pensions, again I'm paying for my own pension out of my own pocket. I took a huge hit like everyone else when the stock market bottomed out.

My limited experience with unions at the state and national level has convinced me that in the 21st Century unions are obsolete and should be phased out. I know a lot of conservative teachers out there in the public schools who are hiding their own personal views because they are afraid of retaliation against them by the teacher's union. I have liberal teacher friends who also wouldn't mind seeing the teacher's union phased out.

I hope that this post evokes a reaction because it should. States like Wisconsin and my own state of Minnesota are broke. Broke! I believe that this will eventually hit everyone and like it or not, we will all have to help reduce the deficits one way or another. State government certainly cannot rely on the federal government to bail them out. What is the alternative? Bankruptcy? Help from foreign governments? Can't you just see the headlines: "Bank of China Bails Out Wisconsin. Teacher's Unions Saved."


Kristie said...

I'm with you! and I am a teacher's daughter and wife. and I also pay for my own insurance and pension out of my pay. my company didn't give raises this year, we were just happy to have jobs. unions are not necessary in America in the 21st century. they were 50 years ago, but life is different now.

Johnny D said...

I am continually amazed at the gaul of public sector employees who act as though they are a protected class and that their phenomenal benefits are part of the Bill Of Rights. No matter how much the private sector is suffering or downsizing, they want more....and what's worse, they think we OWE them.

I hope your new Governor holds firm and that the police find at least one Democrat senator with some actual political courage.

I used to roll my eyes at unions. Now I really believe most are nothing more than a criminal enterprise using extortion to achieve their goals.

Kristie said...

@Johnny, well said!

Michael Schmidt said...

A few facts you may have missed:

-Much of the the fiscal crisis faced by Wisconsin is of the Governor's own making. His first act in office was to enact tax cuts for business totaling nearly half of the deficit.
- The unions are not opposed to sitting down and negotiating as in the past. The protests are about the Governor taking away the rights to collective bargaining.
- Not all public workers are targeted, mainly teachers and prison guards (who did not back Walker) the police and firefighters (who did back Walker) are untouched by this legislation.
-You ask if the only alternatives are bankruptcy or being bailed out by foreign governments. Don't forget that Governor Dayton in your state of Minnesota faces a similar fiscal crisis, and has presented an alternative solution (mostly through taxing the top 5% of earners)

Also, I have to respond to the cynical idea put forth that just because some of us don't have good benefits, then none of us should have good benefits. I too am self employed and provide health insurance for my daughter and myself. (my wife is a public school teacher who has lousy benefits) I see this as a business expense and a consequence of my choice to be self-employed. I don't vilify anyone who is fortunate enough to have benefits through their employer. (Anyone who works for a large company and doesn't receive good benefits should consider forming a union)

- presenting an alternative to the race to the bottom...

Christianna said...

I thought it was interesting that when Scott Walker was a candidate for Governor, he campaigned on eliminating collective bargaining and having state employees pay a higher share of their health care and pension benefits. Despite this, he survived the primary and won the election in 2010. So all of this should not come as a surprise to anyone.

What really irritates me is that all of the Democrats in the Wisconsin state Senate are hiding out in full sight in Illinois until Gov. Walker agrees to a compromise. That is cowardly. What kind of legislators hide out to avoid a vote?

Kristie said...

hi, it's been a few months now, since you wrote this blog. i'd love to read a follow-up from you. i read that the school district was able to balance their budget. is that true?

Christianna said...

Great suggestion! I'd love to follow-up on that Madison Mayhem article. Watch for an update soon!