The French Revolution
Wisconsin Is the New France: Entitlement Derangement Syndrome
Imagine for a moment that you are a public school teacher in Wisconsin. While your job is undoubtedly tough (and important), and you're by no means rich, you do make decent money (more than $52,000 per year), and you do have some nice extra perks that most of us don't enjoy. You work about nine months per year, you have ample additional time off for holidays, and you basically can't be fired. Sure, you can get fired for extreme misbehavior—after months and perhaps years of due process—but do you face the specter of the axe falling based on quarterly results or the loss of a client? Certainly not.
And you have your pension and health plan. Ahh, let us sing the sweet glories of your pension and health plan! Saps like me just have a 401k, and if I don't contribute to it, I don't have retirement benefits. But you? Your plan is extremely generous (how generous? Go and do a calculation), and you can even retire, with benefits, at age 55. As for your health plan, check it out. Add those benefits to your salary, and you're looking at an average total salary of more than $77,000 per year, making your individual compensation roughly 50 percent greater than the median household income in the state.
The problem of course is that all this costs money—lots of money—with the taxpayers shouldering that burden in a struggling economy. Moreover, the pension plan is short on money. To be precise: $10.9 billion dollars short, according to reports last year. Even worse, the taxpayers who pay for these magnificent plans have struggled with soaring unemployment and stagnant wages and tend to make less money than the public employees they support.
So the governor has proposed some modest reforms. He's proposing that state employees make retirement contributions at the national average and health insurance contributions at one-half the national average (up from roughly 25 percent). He's also proposing reforms that would give teachers a real choice as to whether they want to join the union.
It's understandable that teachers wouldn't like these changes. After all, they'll lose money. But does that justify the reaction? Does that justify near-riots in Madison, with protestors comparing the governor to Hitler, threats of violence, and intimidating protests at lawmakers' private residences? Does that justify fourteen Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state to prevent a vote on the governor's proposals?
David French is a lawyer, writer, soldier, and veteran of the Iraq war. He is Senior Counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice. Follow him on Facebook.