Wisconsin and Within our Means

Wisconsin may well prove to be only the first State to go through an economic crisis that goes viral. I’d like to offer perspective as a private citizen from the State that sits below Wisconsin and that often gets beat by its football team.

Like many of us and more and more of us, Kris and I live within our means. We pay our credit card bill completely at the end of the month. We don’t buy things we can’t afford, we don’t spend money we’ve not got, and we don’t overspend in the hope that we’ll just keep making more and more money and somehow will be able to pay our bills on the basis of personal economic growth.

The USA and its States, though, have for decades followed reckless economic decisions and are now discovering that those previously-established patterns and habits are unsustainable. Unsustainability is what Wisconsin is all about. It’s affected all the States to one degree or another.

When we encounter unsustainable spending patterns in families, we learn either to cut back — painfully at times — or we go belly up.

The brass of Wisconsin wants to cut back and the teachers don’t want to surrender ground they’ve captured — they captured such ground during the reckless years and they’re learning about unsustainability.There are reports that the public workers of Wisconsin will agree to the economic cutbacks but not to the curtailment of their collective bargaining rights. I’ve read the official document, but it is unclear to me what is precisely at stake in the proposed amendments. All I’m hearing on the news reports is “Walker wants to crack the union” but I don’t know the specifics so we’re hoping to be enlightened by our readers. (This article suggests Wisconsin is only one on a list of other states.)

Roland Martin speaks some wisdom here and asks the teacher’s union to do what has been the leitmotif of the union and liberal democratic experiment: what’s good for all of us is good for us as individuals. What’s good for all of us is that we better cut back, and we better surrender some ground we’ve gained, and that will be even better for all of us.

(CNN) — The feud between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and that state’s employees has all of a sudden become ground zero in the battle between efforts by the GOP to shut down unions as they exist, and those same union workers desperate to hold on to long-fought-for wages and benefits.

This pitched battle is clearly a precursor to the 2012 elections, but it is also the latest shot across the bow of union purists who are relentless in waging a war against government and business for the benefit of their members….

Walker wants public employees in Wisconsin to pay more for health care benefits and to contribute to their pension plans. Frankly, those are reasonable requests. Where he has largely run into trouble is the effort to end the collective bargaining rights of the various public employees….

This comes down to basic economics. If no additional revenue is coming in due to a refusal to raise taxes, coupled with the dramatically falling property tax revenues, government officials have no recourse but to go to the negotiating table with unions.

No one likes to lose benefits. We all want what was promised years ago. However, it is simply not going to happen. As long as these budget deficits are staring taxpayers in the eye, unions are putting themselves in a difficult situation by thinking they will not have to give something back.

"I can't disagree with you. Empathy and compassion is a gift. I know you will ..."

Rich Mouw, Israel, The Palestinians, The ..."
""These oral teachings and eyewitness accounts of his life provide the basis for the Gospel ..."

The Word of God is Not ..."
"Over at the website of First Things I have read comments by Catholics who say ..."

To Change The Church: Interview With ..."
"I agree that the Palestinians are ill served by their political leaders.I do not know ..."

Rich Mouw, Israel, The Palestinians, The ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • It’s great that as a family you live within your means.
    But you, like all the rest of us beyond the poorest in the U.S., consume way over the limit all the time. The power you consume, the agriculture which uses up the soil, the government sponosored military machine: all these use up wealth, natural capital, and the ecology of the earth.
    Even this website is part of an internet system using huge amounts of power. (Google alone uses more than a city of 100,000).
    Let’s be virtuous as individuals, by all means. But let’s remember we are also living in and supporting a very unsustainable society.

  • Kyle J

    There’s some truth to the analogy Scot uses here, but it’s not a perfect one. The difference compared to a household budget is that the federal and state governments have much more control over what their “means” are. And, in many cases, elected officials (primarily Republican officials, but Dems have gone along with it in many cases) have chosen to lower those means through tax cuts.

    It’s disingenuous, then, to blame all the country’s/state’s financial issues on public employees. Reforms will need to be made to public employee benefits, but it needs to be part of a balanced effort that also recognizes the reforms needed to tax systems.

    Ezra Klein provides a good summation of the situation in Wisconsin, where the Governor wants to cut taxes at the same time he’s laying all the state’s budget problems on the unions:


    Similarly, at the federal level, many elected officials spending a lot of time railing against the federal deficit voted for tax cuts earlier in this decade that account for the largest share of the deficit that’s been created since the balanced budgets of the late 1990s.

    Further, for those conservatives who genuinely want smaller government budgets, they’re going to have to recognize that it’s going to take a lot more to get there than lowering public employee pay, as the majority of both the federal and state budgets are composed of other categories of funding (Social Security/Medicare and defense at the federal level; Medicaid and support for local education at the state level).

  • Kyle J

    Better link on the role of public unions vs. other factors in creating current state budget difficulties:


  • albion

    For some balance to Roland Martin’s screed, read http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/02/unions_arent_to_blame_for_wisc.html

    Using a crisis not of the unions making to achieve ideological objectives (ending the right to collective bargaining) is not “surrendering some ground.” It’s the end of bargaining power for unions.

  • Scot McKnight

    Kyle, good points.

    Albion, isn’t that overstating it?

  • Tom

    Thank you Kyle. The States have been using public employee pension money just like the Fed has been using social security. This is money that does not belong to them. I know that here in Illinois, public employees pay into those pension funds. The wealthy keep ripping away at the workers in a way that has us fighting over the scraps that they give out. The wealthy will always get theirs. 401K money was supposed to be the answer to pensions, the wealthy took that away leaving many older folks with only social security and the few pensions that were left. Now they are tearing away at whats left of the pensions and social security and we all stand by and let them go at it.

  • Hannah

    I’m all for the governor of Wisconsin starting to make some major changes. This is the stating point, and all (including non-union folks) people are going to have to tighten their belts and do without.

  • I can’t speak to the specifics of Wisconsin, but my more general observation is that our state and federal governments operate under a system which (a) rewards the constituency of one party by keeping their taxes low and (b) rewards the constituency of other party by giving out benefits. In truth, both constituencies want both of those things, but each places an emphasis on a different issue. The broad, easy road of compromise in that system inevitably leads to large deficits.

    In my mind, THAT is the system that is no longer sustainable.

  • I will note it’s also a “crisis” entirely trumped up by Governor Walker and the Republican controlled legislature in Wisconsin. The first thing they did on taking office was rush through $137 million in corporate tax breaks which created a $130 million deficit. So basically, they manufactured a deficit for political purposes.

    However, with that said, both the public unions and the Democrats in Wisconsin have repeatedly and publicly stated that they are not opposed to paying a higher percentage of health care premiums and pension contributions. That’s not an issue. The issue is the Republican attempt to use their manufactured “crisis” to eliminate essentially all collective bargaining. And that’s not just bargaining on pay and benefits, but bargaining on working conditions and other non-pay related areas. Nor is it temporary. They seek to permanently remove collective bargaining rights.

    In a classic example of political quid pro quo, the only unions that will retain collective bargaining rights are the two that supported Governor Walker. I think Wisconsin is taking lessons in politics from Illinois. 😉

    I’m a little surprised by the absence of fact-checking in your post.

  • Scot McKnight


    I do note that the State employees have said they’d pay more in, but I’m wondering how and in what ways the collective bargaining has actually been set back. I see the concern … but what are the specifics? (It’s not as simple as shutting it all down; it’s more specific, but how?)

  • Hannah

    Scott (no. 9)
    The right has their “facts”, and the left has their “facts.” There is no trumped up problem here, the state is going broke.

  • Joe Phillips

    As a Wisconsinite who lives in a neighborhood with many Milwaukee Public School Teachers and employees I have been engaging and following the action closely.
    The budget repair bill proposed by Gov. Walker is aimed at fixing a shortfall in the current budget of $137 million. To make up about $30 million he has proposed state employees contribute more to their health care and pension funds that would put them a little under the national average. That is the cost issue.
    Also included in the bill is some union targeted issues. The big issue everyone is focusing on is that all public employees unions would lose their right to collective bargaining on all issues except wages, and that would be limited to the Consumer Index Scale, any wage increase beyond that would require a tax referendum. Additionally, the bill includes that public employee unions take an annual decertification vote, and also would prohibit union dues from being deducted from pay checks. It would also institute “right to work” for public employees.
    Also, the Bill, excludes police and fire unions.
    The Gov. has stated that the need to end collective bargaining for all public employee unions is related to next years budget that was to be released on Tuesday (now pushed back given the political drama). To fix a budget deficit the Gov. is cutting aid to local municipalities and school districts. Early reports are a 90 million decrease in school aid alone.
    The Gov. also passed tax breaks a few weeks ago that are adding not to the current $137 million shortfall for this year, but the 3.3 billion deficits over the next 3 years.
    I have no problem with the state making cuts to fix budget shortfalls. Where I take issues is the non-cost parts of the bill related to unions. It is true unions have over reached at times and I would say are in need of retooling, but simply neutering them like this makes the issue more than about costs.
    The largest public employee unions in the WI (state public employee union, and the state teachers union) have said they would accept the concessions if the Gov. would continue to give them the right to collective bargaining. The Gov. refused to make any compromise. Furthermore, the Gov. never tried in good faith to reach the need concessions through the collective bargaining process. And even more the Milwaukee Journal reported this morning that since many school districts are under contract that extend beyond the state’s budget, ending collective bargaining would give them no help in meeting the lose of state aid.

    If this was only about the cost to the state budget, the Gov. has gotten the concessions he was seeking. He could end all the hysteria by agreeing to the compromise.

  • Steve Pedersen

    I am a pastor in Wisconsin. Some members of my church are teachers, public employees and automatically members of a public union of teachers. But other members are in private unions such as employees of the Kohler Company which went against their union officials and accepted a recent contract to keep jobs but lose some financial security. Some of the teachers are not protesting and realize concessions must be made. Our schools were not closed during the demonstrations. Other teachers don’t want to lose some great benefits compared to the private sector’s cut backs in this tough economy. They took a “personal day” to go to Madison.

    When I moved from Ohio back to Wisconsin my state and property taxes DOUBLED! We pay to have a great tradition of fine education in Wisconsin apart from one of the worst school systems in the country – Milwaukee Public Schools which have a less than 50% graduation rate. Watch the documentary, “Waiting for Superman” which highlights some of the issues and complexities of public education.

    There has been a turn to the “right” in the Wisconsin November elections. Madison was always “left” and thus democrat in leanings but the rest of the state “trumped” this enclave of what humorously has been called, “The Peoples Republic of Madison.” I know, I am a UW-Madison graduate.

    Walker isn’t shutting down unions. What he is doing is giving teachers and public employees the right to choose whether or not they want to opt in and be a union member. Collective bargaining with teachers contracts has sometimes lasted 15 months of negotiating. Unless they accept the small concessions on pension and health care contributions to relieve budget shortfalls, school districts will be letting go many new teachers on the bottom rungs of seniority. Self-interest still fuels the contentiousness of both teachers and tax payers. Money – it can drive some nastiness between factions.

    Walker is looking at serving the common good of all residents of Wisconsin. Civility and the common good – God help us.

  • Kyle J

    @Matt #8

    I understand what you’re saying, but I think that’s a bit of an oversimplifaction. At the federal level, the largest areas of the budget (and the areas where spending is growing) are Social Security/Medicare and Defense. The elderly have voted for the GOP in larger numbers than other age groups of late, and defense spending is much more closely associated with the GOP.

    There’s absolutely a disconnect between what the electorate wants on the tax and spending sides of the ledger, but it’s something that exists across both parties’ voters.

  • Scot, the bill in question doesn’t “set back” collective bargaining. It eliminates it. The only thing that could be bargained is pay up to any rise in consumer price index. (I think that was the measure given to be used. But it’s that one or a similar one.) All other collective bargaining on anything — pay or benefit related or not — is eliminated. Also it’s not just some cuts and benefits the Democrats and unions have said they would agree with. It’s the actual ones in the bill itself. That’s not the provision under dispute. It’s the union-busting provision that’s the core issue. This isn’t about the Wisconsin budget. It’s an attempt to push through a massive ideological shift under the guise of budget crisis. If they took out that provision, the bill would pass with relatively little fuss.

    I also listened to interviews from some of the Walker supporters. The gist of a surprising number of their comments boiled down to the fact that they had lost (or never had) union protections, so they didn’t think the public employees should have them. I’m beginning to think it’s a deliberate and surprisingly successful strategy to foment something like class warfare between different groups of citizens. If it quacks like a duck …

    But from a Christian perspective, I realized we have long had a name for that particular perspective and approach to life. I believe it’s called envy. I’m not sure it ever ends well. In this case, if I were someone working in an industry that had lost or never had the protections that collective bargaining can bring, I would be seeking to gain them for myself and others in my industry, not trying to strip them from those who had them. At what point do you reach the lowest common denominator? When we return to something like the working conditions that prevailed at the end of the 19th century? Where does that path end?

    And Hannah, arithmetic is arithmetic. I’m about as postmodern in my formation and outlook as they come, but math is not relative.

  • sfg

    A big part of the problem is that state government (and cities, like San Diego where I love) have *agreed* to pensions and other benefits to government workers, but then *failed* to fund these programs for the future. Now the crisis is at hand, but I don’t see why the workers are to blame, it is the previous state (or city) governments which have caused this crisis by continually refusing to face the reality that pensions and benefits that were negotiated in good faith must be funded by the government which agreed to them. For these governments now to say, “Sorry, we don’t have any money to fund this” is hypocritical at best.

    And now to use this crisis, which has been caused by the state government, to try to force the ending of collective, bargaining is just wrong.

  • Joe Phillips

    @ Steve Pederson MPS needs some help indeed, but it does not have a 50% graduation rate. It’s worst performing High School, South Division, has a 50% graduation rate.

  • Joe Phillips

    The most frustrating part of the issue, is that supporters of the bill only talk about the cost, and the opponents are protesting the non cost aspects of the bill.

  • Aaron

    Scot, interesting post. I think part of your confusion stems from you reading the wrong bill. The ‘official document’ you link is SB-13 a short bill that does deal with collective bargaining, but the bill in question is a Special Session Bill titled JR1SB-11 and it is 175 pages long. The summary near the top of the bill should clear up your confusion as to the specifics of “how and in what ways” collective bargaining will be set back.


    Happy reading.

  • Steve H

    The Governor is clearly using the financial crisis as an excuse to destroy unions in their public sector, otherwise he would just accept the offer that employees have made with regard to concessions. He is basically towing the Republican line and like most of them, he is a union hater.

    Republicans stand for big business and the wealthy, both of which want to see unions go away. So go ahead Governor…. pretend that you are doing what is best for the state. The non-stupid know that you are just doing the bidding of those who paid for your campaign and election.

  • Just to add a little backdrop to this, unions are very unpopular right now. For the first time in 25 years, Gallup says a majority of people have an unfavorable view of unions (42 vs 41). Over the past 23 years Gallup has been asking, “Are labor unions necessary to protect working people?” The percentage saying “yes” was at 70% for most of those years and the the percentage saying “no” was in the mid to upper 20s. In 2009, it was 61% to 34%.If the trend of the most recent years has continued, their support may be much below these levels today.

    Unions are by definition intensely about advocacy for their constituency above all other concerns. As long as those being organized are understood to be truly oppressed workers, I think most people readily support unions. However, when the union members start getting significantly more than the average Joe or Josephine, and refuse to accept pain in hard times, public perception can quickly shift to seeing unions as the oppressors … especially government unions. Right or wrong, I think that is a perception that has been developing. I think this vociferous protest has a significant backfire potential.

    I think significant curtailment of collective bargaining is in the WI measure. Unions should be concerned. Of course, whether this is good or bad all depends on your take on the virtue of unions. But I think WI GOPers are probably aware of the growing discontent with unions and rather than trying to make a case against unions, this bit of theater going on in Madison is seen as powerful way to communicate their point with little oratory on the GOP’s part … the proverbial handing them the rope so they can hang themselves.

  • Joe (#12), thanks for clarifying. The excerpt of the tax breaks bill I read sounded like they took effect immediately and directly contributed to the current shortfall, not just future ones. My mistake. Though I’m still not sure how, even using the household budget example from Scot’s post, it makes sense to voluntarily reduce income before you’ve determined how to compensate.

    But that wasn’t really my main point. My main point was that it wasn’t about budget cutting measures, but about union busting. And I see a thread of deliberating inflaming and exploiting the passions, particularly envy, which is a matter of concern.

    Besides, I heard someone ask a good question. Since when did school teachers become the enemy?

  • Ron Spross

    We too live within our means, and I firmly believe that in the abstract it is not unreasonable that teachers and other public employees contribute more to their retirement or other benefits at this time.

    However, during the “prosperity” of the last decade, the median income has not changed, which means that essentially ALL of the increase in wealth has gone disproportionately to those of us in the upper end of the upper half of the income spectrum. Even while we have a collapsing economy those at the top are not only calling for more tax breaks and preferential treatment, they are getting it.

    We continue to hear arguments (mainly if not completely from Republicans) that salaried people struggling to maintain their middle class status should make some sacrifices for the good of the whole. In the context my patience with this one sided prescription for economic remedy doesn’t last through the second paragraph of your post.

  • Jorge L

    Asking the unions to start paying part of their premiums for their benefits which far outstrip most in the private sector is quite reasonable.

    The changes proposed in collective bargaining may seem like union-busting and the unions are disingenuously milking it for all it’s worth.

    But there is a structural problem in public sector unions, which is why not just Wisconsin but many other states face the same issues. And so does the Federal government.

    In the heyday of union activity, public employees were not permitted to unionize. Public sector unions are only a bit more than 50 years old. It’s taken a generation to see the intrinsic problem:

    Private sector unions negotiate contracts with private companies who have to keep things in the black or go bankrupt. If they go bankrupt, the unions lose everything. So there are limits to bargaining and everyone works within them. Where they don’t (auto companies), the companies would have gone bankrupt and union workers lost everything, but the government artificially stepped in and kicked the can down the road, using taxpayers’, yours and my, money.

    That’s the problem with public sector unions. The “management” bargaining with the unions are government officials and the money they bargain with is not their company’s money but a third party’s, the taxpayers’/voters’.

    Over time, as the government negotiators gave in just a little too much too soon, public sector unions’ wages and benefits outstripped those in the private sector. The states are bankrupt and cannot print money. Responsible voters finally realized this and did the only thing they could, voted for governor and legislature to begin to rein in unions, eliminate the outstripping.

    And the unions respond by villifying the elected governor and nullifying the voters’ decision (the Wisconsin senate running away–which is destructive of representative government and cannot be justified at all) using classic union language.

    This would have been over long ago, decided as the voters wished for it to be decided, had the media not brazenly misreported it as simple union-busting and had not the national Democrats and the president entered decisively on the side of the public sector unions.

    To restrict collective bargaining to salaries but not benefits is a decent, common-sense compromise. It’s the gold-plated benefits that destroyed the auto industry. It’s the place the public sector unions most outstrip the private sector. It’s the logical place to recalibrate.

    It’s an effort to recognize that public-sector unions are different from private sector unions, that government leaders, to avoid public sector strikes, have borrowed way beyond their states’ means to satisfy demands

    and that this has to be pulled back.

    The sooner public-sector unions realize that their benefits simply cannot be the same in the future as in the past, that the money is not there, period, the better for them. Because sooner or later, given the inability of the states and cities to print money, they will have to confront reality.

    Right now public sector unions are living in la la land. And the Enabler-in-Chief in Washington is egging them on.

    He does them a disservice, like a parent spoiling a child rather than helping the child to face reality.

  • stephen

    “This comes down to basic economics. If no additional revenue is coming in due to a refusal to raise taxes, coupled with the dramatically falling property tax revenues, government officials have no recourse but to go to the negotiating table with unions.”

    There is no effort by Walker to negotiate here. He is cramming his way down everyone’s throat. Take it or leave it.

    Here is the way a governor (who happens to be a Republican) approaches public workers in a way that respects them, I believe will be successful, because my experience is public employees are willing to make sacrifices during this downturn, and many have been doing so already;


    Michigan Gov. Says He Won’t ‘Pick Fights’ With Unions


    Amid days of protest in Wisconsin over legislation to limit collective bargaining, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said he won’t “pick fights” with the state’s employee unions. “We’re going to go negotiate with our unions in a collective-bargaining fashion to achieve goals,” the Republican governor said in an interview. “It’s not picking fights. It’s about getting people to come together and say here are the facts, here are the common-ground solutions.”

    Thousands of demonstrators have descended on the Wisconsin Capitol building to protest the passage of a bill to the collective-bargaining rights for public workers. In Columbus, Ohio, protesters are also gathering to demonstrate against a similar bill up for passage in Ohio’s state senate. “That’s not our path,” Mr. Snyder said.

    Michigan is seeking to cut state employee health benefits particularly for retired workers as it looks to get $180 million in concessions from its 45,000 employees. The state has a $1.8 billion budget deficit this year which the administration is proposing to balance through a combination of new taxes and deep spending cuts.

  • Least of all

    I’m really disappointed by your lack of support for teachers, given that so many members of your family are/were teachers.

    Ending collective bargaining rights does nothing to help the financial outlook of Wisconsin.

    The 5 states that don’t allow collective bargaining for teachers have 5 worst ACT/SAT scores in the nation. WI tied for 2nd …

    The reason why teacher salaries are so low is because of the insurance coverage school districts pay for. If you take away that, then you had better raise teacher salaries.

    After this, who would actually want to be a teacher? The answer to that question scares me.

    You are entitled to your opinion. And I am entitled to mine.

    Isn’t interesting that the governor doesn’t want to TOUCH the fire/police unions/contracts, because those unions supported the governor in the last election?

  • Scot McKnight

    Aaron, that’s very helpful to me. I hadn’t seen that clarity and couldn’t for the life of me see what they were proposing. That’s a very strong-armed legal proposal, and it sets the momentum to undo the value of the union when it comes to wages. It seems there is still collective bargaining, but through some kind of voted-on committee. Is that right?

  • Jorge, first I want to thank you for providing a fine illustration on my point about class warfare and the passions.

    Second, I want to correct your apparent ignorance on one point. Federal unions have no power to negotiate either pay or benefits. Both of those are set by Congress and always have been. There are a number of other areas in which Federal labor unions are prohibited from bargaining. The law is easy to find if you’re interested in researching it further. Similarly, federal unions have no power to strike — something a lot of people seem to forget. They do have federal labor panels (FLRA and FSIP) with appointed and Senate approved members to hear and resolve disputes. If either party feels the panels have ruled in a way that does not conform to Federal law, they can pursue the matter in Federal court.

    Federal labor unions do negotiate working conditions and those go beyond basic safety. Public workplaces are particularly vulnerable to a particular form of corruption in their management and executive ranks that is insidious. Since there is not usually a direct profit motive involved, “power” is often defined at some levels by the scope of control you can develop and at others (by some people) by the amount of “power” you can exercise over your employees. So federal unions have to negotiate and enforce fair appraisal and hiring processes since it is not automatic that the best employees in objective terms will be treated as such. They have to negotiate ways to ensure that leave policies are implemented fairly. And that’s just on the “white collar” and professional side of the scale. (The federal workforce, unlike some public sector areas, is predominantly white collar and professional.)

    Private companies, especially large ones, are hardly immune to such forces. That’s why Dilbert is so universally popular among certain areas of the workforce. But the public sector is particularly vulnerable to them. And again, every Wisconsin Democrat, union leader, and protester I’ve read or heard has stated that the cuts in the bill are not the issue. In principle at least, they all agree. (Since the governor has refused to even talk to the unions, some of that is untested, but the bad faith so far is entirely on his side.) The core issue are the union busting provisions of the bill.

    Jorge, I’m curious. Why do you feel like you need to essentially lie and say the debate is about something other than what it is? I recognize that’s exactly the tactic of Governor Walker and other demagogues. But why do you feel the need to repeat it? Do you believe that what you say is true and the fight is actually about the cuts in the bill? If so, why do you believe that’s true? Who have you heard or read say that? Because the only people I hear asserting that as the basis for the dispute are the Republicans in Wisconsin. I haven’t heard a single Senate Democrat or union leader from Wisconsin say that the cuts in benefits are an issue for the people they represent. In fact, I’ve heard and read them repeatedly say the opposite.

  • Christine

    Ah Scot, it is wonderful that Kris and you have salaries that allow you to pay off your bills each month and travel to wonderful destinations. You work hard and have earned those opportunities. You could cut back and it most likely wouldn’t impact your lifestyle so much.

    Not all of us can. Our family already lives close to the bone. We desperately need a new dryer, but cannot afford one. Our dishwasher is broken, and we cannot afford to replace it. Nothing wrong with washing by hand, and we’re doing so. Our home needs major repairs, but no funds to do them. We don’t have cable, we’ve eliminated our landline, we use the cheapest available cell phone plan which averages out to $35/month total. We don’t go on vacations, etc, etc! Our car has over 100,000 miles on it, and happily keeps running. We live very, very simply.

    Were I a Wisconsin teacher and told that now I’d need to take home $2900 less per year (on average), it would be a TOUGH adjustment. Frankly, I don’t know where it would come from, but we’d swallow hard, thankful to still have a job, and take our lumps IF it were a one-time thing and this were all that was asked of us.

    BUt it’s not.

    It’s also taking away collective bargaining which is a HUGE concession.

    Those are fighting words, and I fear that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg on this one. It will roll out across the nation, and it will pit folks against each other. Class warfare? You better believe it!

    Honestly, Scot, as an educator, we are beaten down in the press ALL the time. I don’t work a 40 hour week – it is generally 60 hours. I give of my time and I buy things for school that are not able to be supplied by the district. And I’m not an anomaly. Many educators are dedicated, effective employees who work really hard. We’re the lowest paid, save for social workers, of professions that require a master’s degree, yet we’ve become the whipping boy for the current economic crisis.

    So sure, I’d suck it up and take home even less than I do now even though that means I wouldn’t be able to save a penny. but I would NOT go down without a major fight to give up collective bargaining.

    The blaming the teacher thing that is sweeping the nation is incredibly demoralizing and debilitating. And yeah, I include Illinois’s lovely gift of Arne Duncan in that.

    Sorry this is so long. I obviously am passionate about this issue, but then again, I am the daughter of a lifelong union member and received an AFL-CIO scholarship in college. 🙂


  • Christine

    @Joe Philips, #12 – Do you know why firefighters and police are exempt? That would make me angry if I were an educator in Wisconsin. Let’s look at their salaries – in many cases, they make more than teachers. Why the disconnect? Is it, as I’ve read, that Walker doesn’t want to alienate them as they supported his election?

  • Broad Brush

    “Republicans stand for big business and the wealthy”

    Please! Such lies do not help solve any problems. The Democrats in Washington are NOT poor. They are WEALTHY and CATER TO BIG BUSINESS as much as anyone. I could make equally outrageous claims against Dems as this one against Reps but what good would that do?

    We need to THINK instead of repeating old cliches and popular talking points.

  • Joe Phillips

    To be fair only some of the police and fire unions endorsed Gov. Walker and their finical contributions were minimal a few thousand dollars. But on the flip side public employee unions and the teacher unions are some of the biggest contributors to democrats.

  • Jorge L

    The public sector union problem is real. Ignore it if you wish. Spout Democrat talking points if you wish.

    The fact that Federal laws govern federal employee negotiating sidesteps the issue. The Congress that wrote those laws did so using third party money. Unlike businesses they can print money. And that’s why public sector employees have sweeter benefits. Yeah, many of them are underfunded.

    Which makes my point: the whole system is messed up, with lawmakers granting compensation and benefits that can’t be sustained and paid for because they don’t operate the way businesses do.

    The days of kicking the can down the road are over, even if your sources in the Democrat Party of Wisconsin think otherwise. One does not have to be a Wisconsin Republican to see that. One has only to be an informed citizen.

  • DRT

    No solution in my comments, just observations:

    I think the inherent problem is that the people running things ain’t as smart as we think they are. As Scot says, the politicians in power during the fat years overspent and now someone will have to pay for that. And its not unique to the public sector.

    Here are the top private bankruptcies.

    Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.- Assets $652 billion
    Washington Mutual – $335 billion
    Worldcom Inc. – $127 billion
    General Motors Corporation – $84.3 billion
    CIT Group
    Enron Corp.
    Conseco, Inc.
    Chrysler LLC
    Texaco, Inc, – $69.4 billion

    These companies had well screened executives. Our government largely has elected officials whose primary talent is politics, not business. In the words of rjs, We have a Problem Houston….

    I do observe that it seems that the kids are largely protected during this, and that is good…

  • Joe Phillips

    @ Christine. The governor says it is because we cannot risk public safety should they can on an illegal strike.

    That might be partly true, but is inconsistent with how the gov. Has framed the issue, otherwise he could have brought them to the table to negotiate as well. Milwaukee’s mayor has said ending collective bargaining without including police and fire does not really give the city the tools to address their own budget issues.

  • Tom

    I am so dissappointed with the lack of support by Christians for working people. This issue is only a small part of the problem. Christians in general have sided with big businees repeatedly(follow the money I guess) and most of the employees I know that did not support collective bargining did so on the basis of their “christian” convictions.
    I understand that unions have not always done a good job, but we are in a position where working people are being abused and there seems to be no help from the church. In fact, those high up in business are many times the same folks high up in the church due to their position in the community. We tend to give wealthy supporters the best seats at the table and in the church.
    Working people need help more than ever. The church needs to see the need and become more relevant in this area. Working people need the help of unions, govenment and yes, the church. How can you expect to reach people that you have turned into monsters all the while letting the wealthy bosses off the hook?

  • #22 Soctt M

    There are some parallels between personal finance but some significant differences as well. The higher the corporate tax rate the less money that leaves circulating in the economy to stimulate business activity and create jobs. Also, if you increase corporate taxes too much, A) out of state businesses will not move in state, B) new businesses will not form in in your state and C) existing businesses may move out of state or halt expansion. So two options are weighed.

    1. Increase corporate tax rates and get a greater percentage of what may become a shrinking amount of business income (and jobs.)

    2. Decrease corporate tax rates and get a smaller percentage of a growing amount of business income (and jobs.)

    It isn’t just a cynical hand out to businesses and the wealthy. And the fact is, you can’t be pro-labor without being pro-business. Without business, there are no jobs.

    I’m not sure there is a good similar analogy to a household budget.

  • Jerry

    I’m not an economist or poly-sci major, but I’ll give MHO for what it’s worth. I’m going to range beyond this one issue. First I am US military and I think the defense budget should be cut (Gates has recommened it). Social security age qualifying age should be increased along with other changes in entitlements. We need a fair income tax in which EVERYONE pays (maybe flat tax?)
    On this issue, it sounds like if the Gov gave up the collective bargaining position he would get his concessions. But, I’m no fan of teachers unions. Don’t think I’m down on teachers–I have lots of them in my family and my wife is a school nurse. I believe teachers are underpaid for what they provide. Christine–glad you got the AFL-CIO scholarship, my fathter was a lifelong union member and I got NOTHING so had to join the military.

  • Full Disclosure: I am an employee of a public school district,a union member, not a teacher, and not in WI

    I find it interesting and very telling that you view public sector unions as a “problem”. I worked for 10 years as one of the few non-union employees in the same district where I am now. One of the reasons why I and my colleagues joined the union was because we were not getting raises and benefits even consistent with the rate of inflation. Not to mention that when I started over 12 years ago the pay was not competitive with the private sector for my job description. What I am making now is what the private sector was making when I started.

    There’s a lot of misconceptions and misinformation being spread by both sides in this. For me, the telling point in the whole discussion is that the Wisconsin Governor did not include all public sector unions in the legislation. He left out the 2 who supported him. Those 2 are also the 2 that have direct impact on public safety. What an obvious act of political gratuity.

    Yes,Jorge,we are facing issues that need to be dealt with. However, the pain should be spread evenly. Why are tax cuts being given at all? Now is the time for austerity in spending AND a moratorium for tax cuts. There simply is not enough cutting that can be done to fix the problem.

  • The whole thing depresses me. Unions only seem helpful when business is thriving. Taxes aren’t intrinsically evil. It’s the stuff of irresistible forces and immovable objects. Maybe if everything crashes and burns, some sane people can construct a system that is actually balanced between common and individual interest… but probably not.

  • Jerry

    A question: I read that in 2009 Wisconsin actually expanded collective bargaining rights and lifted limits on teacher salary increases. Is that true? Is so, they would appear to be more of a roll back than an assault.

  • Michael W. Kruse:

    Your argument sounds very convincing, except for the fact that in real life, the opposite happens. Allow me to briefly recap the past 10 years for you.

    *Enormous tax cuts and deregulation, followed by
    *Giant deficits and
    *Market crash and soaring unemployment.

    So no. Handouts to the wealthy and business don’t help anyone (except rich people).

  • Jerry

    Ken and Steve–I agree that a blanket “no” on taxes is nonsense. To get out of this mess we probably need both cuts and tax increases. Maybe this is part of the role the church can play as “kingdom” people–calling our government to responsibility and sanity.

  • Ron #23

    There is truth that a the very tip top of the economic ladder there is been a significant growth in percentage of income. And it is true that pre-tax, pre-benefit, wages have been stagnate for the bottom of the population.

    But when you factor in taxes, the net income of the top half of folks falls considerably (97% of federal taxes are paid by the top 50% of earners.) And when you add in government aid and other non-cash distributions, the net income of the poor rises considerably. The increased amount paid by businesses for health care and other non-cash compensation figures into this as well. So when we look at total compensation the spread has not widened that much between the bottom and the 99th percent, and their overall compensation has been modestly improving.

    (Also missing from much of this is the hidden technological impact. A car today is of substantially higher quality then a car of a similar model 20 years ago, but costs the same or less in inflation adjusted dollars. Many of the poor have cellphones which they wouldn’t have had 20 years ago. And so on.)

    The real question is why the tip top of the ladder has been growing so rapidly. And while there are a number of likely suspects I think it is suspicious that so much of the super-wealth growth came in the financial sector. But we can’t balance the budget by just addressing these folks and that is going to mean sacrifice by most everyone.

  • Jerry
    We should call government into accountability. we should also be calling pundits, TV talking heads,and freelance politicians into accountability as well. Demonization of those in opposition needs to stop. We may disagree, but we are NOT ENEMIES.Neither side has all of the answers and we need to get that across.

  • Robin

    One interesting point on the benefits is that it appears the teacher’s unions have recently chosen to have health insurance provided by the most expensive provider in the state, through a no-bid process, even though they could have the same coverages and reduce the layoffs by 33% by simply choosing one of the other providers. The provider that they continually choose, despite the extra layoffs it cost them last year, just happens to be an affiliate of the state teachers union.

    So, the teachers union has negotiated health insurance benefits, and through a no-bid process given the health insurance contract to one of its own affiliates, despite the fact that it is the costliest insurer in the state, and despite the fact that this single decision cost at least 160 jobs by itself in the previous school year.

    The apparent corruption in this no-bid process probably tells a lot of the story behind the contention of collective bargaining of health insurance benefits.

  • Robin
    Please cite your source. Where I work the job of bidding out insurance contracts is done by the school district, not the union.

  • #42 Collen

    I assume you are responding to #37. I made a statement about the specific issue of corporate tax rates and nothing else. Obviously, if government can’t control its spending, it won’t make much difference how much revenue you bring in. And if regulation isn’t sufficient to keep financial transactions transparent, then bad investment is going to happen. I’m unclear why you think this has anything to do with the narrower case I made the impact of corporate tax rates.

  • Jeremy

    Steve: http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/103338074.html

    It seems that the school districts get to choose, BUT their choice is somewhat limited by collective bargaining strategies.

    There is, however, a rebuttal in the comments worth reading.

  • Robin


    Here is the cite (bottom). The provider that I spoke of was Wisconsin Education Association Insurance Corporation (WEAIC), the affiliate of the union. They provide insurance for 64% of Wisconsin School Districts, even though their premiums are 10-16% higher than other providers. These contracts are generally awarded through a no-bid process BECAUSE THAT APPEARS TO BE WHAT HAS BEEN NEGOTIATED THROUGH COLLECTIVE BARGAINING.

    You have to ask yourself, why would the governor, even if he is Hitler, why would he allow collective bargaining on wages, but not on health insurance benefits? I propose that one of the prime targets is this no-bid awarding of lucrative contracts to union affiliates (At the cost of hundreds of teacher’s jobs according to Milwaukee Public Schools).

    There is also the added benefit of letting new teachers decide if they want to join the union. I am a fan of voluntary associations and non-coercive behavior. I believe individual workers should be able to determine if the benefits of membership are worth the money they must give up in dues, and activities that get sponsored through those dues.


  • Robin

    Regarding no-bid contracts.

    I work heavily with Medicaid in Kentucky and our largest metropolitan area has a managed care contract called PASSPORT that is essentially a conglomerate of all the hospitals in the region. They receive all of the Medicaid dollars in the region and administer the managed care.

    Because of their connections in the state government, the contract has been no-bid for about a decade; instead of a competitive bidding process, we have just trusted that our state Departments of Medicaid Services will sit down at the negotiating table every year and negotiate appropriate rates.

    Well, after a decade of no-bid contracts (and a couple of million in lobbying spent every year) we finally had a state audit of the contract, and it turns out that PASSPORT has taken us to the cleaners and feathered its nest with about $50 million in state revenues.

    No-bid contracts are almost always a prize awarded to people with powerful connections at the expense of the taxpayers. The union got these instituted through collective bargaining of health insurance in many districts, and that is the reason the governor wants to get rid of collective bargaining of health insurance.

  • Jeremy
    I read the article and the comments including the one that I think you are referring to.
    Health insurance is a big headache for most public entities. The state where I work has a Blue Cross/Blue Shield affiliate that wanted to raise rates for some municipalities up to 86%. Many municipalities and school districts have decided to self insure. Although the risks are higher especially the first year, the savings are significant.

    There should be bidding on all major contracts. However, as was noted in the comments in the article, the cheapest isn’t always the best value.

  • Robin

    Right-to-work states do not have higher scores than states with strong unions. Actually, the states with the highest performance on national tests are Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont, and New Hampshire, where teachers belong to unions that bargain collectively for their members from the CNN article quote by Scot in another post.

    I work in Connecticut. I can say honestly that on non-school days (ie breaks, summer vacation, and even snow days) I have seen teachers in buildings doing work BEYOND their contractual obligation. I know because I am an IT person who works all year. We often have to be in even on snow days.

    That being said, I agree that no-bid contracts are a bad idea. However, the cheapest bidding isn’t always the best.

  • RobS

    Lots of idea… and glad to have Steve_D comments on some of the benefits the union did bring (lack of salary improvements, etc) to keep things in perspective.

    I think the GOP is often more hostile to unions is just that the GOP doesn’t get money from unions. Democrats really benefit from unions. So, many are starting to ask why union salaries doing public sector work are higher in many cases. If the union as a whole is collecting dues of some kind from their members, those $ are going (usually) to fund a Democrat in an election cycle (in general).

    It’s not a huge % probably, but if 1.5% to 2% are dues managing the union and funding the opposing political party, the GOP is asking how long government tax dollars should circulate around and continue to try and push them out of office…

    Maybe the GOP should make it clear they are concerned with the union dues going to fund the opposition and that they are looking to save that money & stop the Democrat funding stream at the same time?

    I’m not a GOP strategist or anything, but that issue could be at the core of things.

  • A public educator

    I mentioned this on your follow-up post, but I will post it here as well. The Democrats and the unions have offered to concede to the parts in the bill that would close the budget short-fall (paying more for health insurance and pension) if the Gov. did not take away the right to organize under the union. If this bill is really about closing a short-fall– then why do they refuse this offer?

  • Robin


    Correlation does not equal causation. Here is a link to the NCES Science Report Card for 2009. http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/main2009/2011451.asp

    If you want to look on page 15 of the report you will see that several collective bargaining states, like Connecticut did very well. However you will also see that some collective bargaining states like New Mexico and West Virginia performed atrociously, despite having all the benefits of forced unionization.

    Meanwhile, despite the horrors contained in the right to work laws, states like Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota outpaced even Connecticut (% at proficient level is the metric)

    The bottom line is that most, but not all, right to work states tend to have extremely high levels of poverty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-to-work_law#U.S._states_with_right-to-work_laws) and it is erroneous to look at the test scores of a very poor state and say “they would have an excellent educational system if only they rid themselves of right-to-work legilsation). Also, it is almost certainly untrue that the primary reason for an excellent test scores in high income places like Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Massachusetts is the fact that they have collective bargaining.

    In addition to the benefits of high-income populations, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire have the added benefit of lily-white populations (homogeneity is good when the desired outcome is high test scores) with low incidences of crime, out-of-wedlock births, etc., just like their right-to-work counterparts in north and south dakota and iowa.

  • Robin
    My point behind posting the list of 5 states was to make the point that unions aren’t the cause of bad teachers. BTW, you might be unfamiliar with some of the demographics of Connecticut. While there is a great deal of wealth in areas like Greenwich. It is contrasted by the poverty of areas like Bridgeport and Derby.

    Your points actually fit into something that I believe, that is that teachers make up only part of the equation. Generally a better predictor of educational success is stable home life and/or involved parents.

  • Robin


    I don’t think unions are the cause of bad teachers. I do think that in this particular case the unions have negotiated contracts (along with complicit bureaucrats) whose apparent conflict of interest would look dastardly if private companies (ahem, Haliburton) had negotiated them.

    I also don’t buy into the “teachers are underpaid martyrs” propaganda that accompanies these discussions. In Wisconsin teachers make $10K more than other residents (averages) and have much more lucrative benefits…not to mention they only work 10 months.

    As far as those 5 states you listed, according to the statistical abstract of the states they have the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, and 23rd highest per capita incomes in the US. (Conn. is #1) so my hypothesis is still that they have quality education primarily because they are some of the wealthiest states, and that their approach to unions is not likely to be a major factor. (I guess you could argue they have high personal incomes because of their historic approach to unions, but that is a different argument)


  • @ Michael W. Kruse, #44, wrote: Also missing from much of this is the hidden technological impact. A car today is of substantially higher quality then a car of a similar model 20 years ago, but costs the same or less in inflation adjusted dollars. Many of the poor have cellphones which they wouldn’t have had 20 years ago. And so on.

    Immaterial, to be economically viable in 21st century, one needs these technological things.

    Today, it costs 50% more for housing, 30% more for education, yet wages are down ~20%, compared to 1970.

    Meanwhile, during this period, GDP has risen steadily (though not at a pace of the golden age of 1930s – 1970s), productivity has skyrocketed (even in 21st century, it has increased).

    But there is a lot of angst directed at public sector employees — that they are “entitled” to be screwed over just like many in the private sector.

  • Rog

    Regardless of one’s view on public employee unions and the current Wisconsin governor’s attempts to restrict (or destroy) them, is it not strange that politicians would obstruct the legislative process over it?

    As President Obama said, elections have consequences. Isn’t the democratic recourse to either overturn unconstitutional law in the courts or elect politicians who will set things right in the next legislature?

    Personally, I could better understand such obstruction in cases of life and death moral issues such as abortion or the death penalty. It just seems remarkable that this particular issue would spur such drastic civic disobedience on the part of elected officials (and public employees). Does democracy not make much difference between us and Egypt?

  • Robin

    Connecticut is a state of paradoxes. Yes, there are the uber rich of the Gold Coast (the coast that borders Long Island Sound). On the other hand, there are areas of poverty. The number 1 status is due to the fact that the rich are very rich. Since the bulk of school and town funding comes from property tax, there are wide discrepancies in funding that are not totally made up by state aid.

    As for teachers being martyrs, I have never stated that they were. I find it interesting that in order to be a public school teacher you need to have your MA or MS within 3 years of your date of hire and a teaching certificate. In order to keep on teaching you must stay current through Continuing Education credits (CEUs). Most jobs do not require updating of professional information to remain employed. By the way, private schools do not have to adhere to professional credentialing. Hence,there is no legal requirement to hire a teacher with a Masters.

  • Rog
    Look at it as a filibuster.

  • Roger

    Steve D.
    Not quite a filibuster as the filibuster is enshrined in law. Leaving the state is thwarting the law’s due process.

    Still puzzles me why this particular issue is so important that the courts and ballot box are insufficient remedies.

  • Roger

    Filibusters are only enshrined in U.S. Senate rules, not any particular legal code.

    There is no intrinsic right to organize built into either the Wisconsin or U.S. Constitutions. Therefore, most courts would decline to rule. My own suspicion is that this is a test of wills with a newly elected Governor. From what I understand, he has refused to negotiate any points with the Democrats despite their offers of compromise. I think that this standoff is actually part of a much wider discussion/argument about the direction of the country. Neither side is totally right or wrong. They really need to sit down and compromise.

  • Justin

    Check out this letter from Wisconsin Senator Fitzgerald. He speaks hoenstly and frankly about the discussion.


    I think the angry teachers are failing to understand that their pension plans are far beyond the majority of any private companies. If the public outpaces the private, we get into trouble, as is the case in Wisconsin.

    The frustrating part of this ordeal is that %40 of Madison teachers called in “sick” to go protest. They lied to their administrators. Not only that, but they took away their students’ right to an education.

    The large switch from democratic to republican that took place in the last election shows that many more were ready for this change, and that Scott Walker is doing what the people of Wisconsin desire.

    p.s. Governor Walker is a believer – http://www.allgodspeople.com/madison/scott-walker-running-for-governor-relying-on-trust-and-obey.html

  • Justin
    If the public outpaces the private, we get into trouble, as is the case in Wisconsin.

    Why? This isn’t a contest between public and private sectors. Private Corporations at times will contribute money to employees 401k accounts. Frankly, I believe that this is a red herring issue. For years, public employees got paid less than private sometimes 20-30% less. The private sector needs to stop sending jobs overseas and start paying living wages for this country.

    Governor Walker is a believer

    Who cares? He certainly isn’t acting as a believer.

  • Justin

    Steve D,

    What do you mean, ‘Who cares (that he is a believer)’?

    I think that is of far more importance than is decisions of governor. But that is not the topic of this post. I would just be more careful with your words than to minimize a brother’s position in Christ.

    Private Corporations at times DO contribute money to employees 401k accounts. However, that is not the norm. It is rare to find private corporations who contribute 100% of the 401k as is the case for the teachers’ pensions. Not only that, but I haven’t heard of many 401k accounts that are anywhere close to a pension.

    The public should not outpace the private because you end up creating a cycle that can not sustain itself.

  • Justin

    Whether or not someone is a Christian is not germane to the discussion at hand. The Governor’s belief system is not the discussion.

    It is rare to find private corporations who contribute 100% of the 401k as is the case for the teachers’ pensions

    Actually, where I work, the teachers do contribute to their pensions. As a non-certified employee, I do. Making generalizations about what teacher’s pay and benefits are is really dangerous. Even within the same state pay and benefits vary.

    The public should not outpace the private because you end up creating a cycle that can not sustain itself.

    The ONLY reason that the public sector gets paid more (not totally true statement) is that the private sector has been shipping jobs off shore for years. If you can get the private sector to start keeping jobs here, that would change. By the way, there is not a true correlation between public and private pay. The job categories don’t totally line up. Hence, you really have to look category to category.

  • RobS

    I saw a couple sources suggest AFSCME (American Federation for State, County, and Municipal Employees) contributed about $90 million to Democrats in the 2010 election. Effectively, that money comes from taxpayers at the source, so I think the Republicans are wondering how to stop this huge contribution machine.

    It’s funny how FDR was pro labor and gave us the New Deal — yet had some criticism for public labor unions.

    I do believe some unions serve their members well and help protect worker interests. But, I think the campaign $ issue is at the core of this one.