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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thoughts on the furor in Wisconsin

Well, I'm back.  Sorry about the two month gap.  There has been a lot I've wanted to write about, but I've been busy.

Most readers are familiar with the drama/dispute that has been taking place for the last week or ten days in Madison, Wisconsin, and I am about to repeat what those readers already know, but my foreign readers (yes, there appear to be some) may need some background.

A new Republican Governor and legislature have been attempting to cut back (using the term loosely) certain benefits of most unionized public employees in Wisconsin.  There have been mass protests, and the Democratic Senate members have left the State to prevent the State Senate from convening - due to the lack of a quorum.

I have a lot of problems with the Republicans here, and some with the Democrats (I don't like parliamentary tricks to keep a legislature from just voting stuff up or down).  My biggest annoyance, however, is with the way the Republicans are to misrepresenting their reasons for what they are proposing. Blatant intellectual dishonesty and political distortion just really get to me.  The Governor keeps talking about the need to save money and plug current State deficits by cutting certain benefits, but the unions and their Democratic supports have said they are OK with that.

So what are the Republicans proposing?  Broadly speaking, it is a single bill which, among other things:

1.  Forces the public employees to pay a much larger share of the cost of their medical and other benefits right now.  (This is what the unions have agreed to), and it would clearly save the State money right now.

2.  Severely cuts back the issues on which the unions have a right to collectively bargain, and even caps the amount of raises that can be bargained for.  This would not save any money now, but the argument can be made that the State and local governments in Wisconsin have been getting "stomped" by the unions, and that the governments need help from state law in order to keep the unions from walking over them in future collective bargaining.  This may be, in some sense, true, and, if so, would save the state and local governments money in the future;

3.  Requires frequent votes to recertify unions and allows union members to prevent their dues from being used for political purposes.  This saves no money.  It is clearly designed to cripple the public sector unions generally, and particularly their ability to donate money to political causes.

My (who-the-Hell-is-he-anyway) thoughts and proposal:

Collective bargaining rights and benefits given thereunder are not God-given.  They are a creature of law.  The rights of public employees to benefits or to collectively bargain at all are rights given by the laws of the State of Wisconsin.  And what the State gives, the State, through its duly elected representatives, can take away.  So if the Republicans have the votes to do so, that's life.  Although others might disagree, I do not think that passage of the law in question would be the end of the world for anyone.  I do think most of it is a bad idea, but not one that justifies indefinitely grinding government to a halt.  Remember, the next Governor and legislature can change the law back if they see fit to do so.  (Aren't regular elections truly wonderful things!)

So, my suggestion:  1) Republicans -divide the current bill into at least three parts.  2) Democrats -  come back.  3) Everyone - Debate the bills for a reasonable time.  Amend them if you like.  Vote them up or down.  Go on with life.  But stop bullshitting about  alleged purposes.

The first part of the bill described above will then pass.  Whether increasing required contributions from state workers is how to solve Wisconsin's public deficit problems is subject to reasonable dispute.  I think it should be part of the solution, but I can cheerfully argue either side on that one. More to the point, it's what the Governor and Republican representatives promised to do if elected.  And they won. Further, it does help solve a legitimate budget problem, and Wisconsin State employee contributions would become closer to the average of all public employees (and would still be lower than the average contributions of those in the private sector).  Will it significantly hurt a number of less-than-rich people?  Yep, and I'm not unsympathetic.  However, times are bad, and the State does need more money.

The second and third parts of the current bill might or might not also pass.  Most of the Republicans in the legislature (and certainly the Governor) would favor passage, but the idea of taking away rights from working Americans,  basically just to take away those rights, may not sit well with the voters of Wisconsin.  I find the third part of the bill particularly offensive, and nothing more than an attempt to further stack the deck in favor of "corporate" as opposed to "worker" interests, but that's only my own view.  Wisconsin citizens voting in 2012 might feel differently, but I'd like the Republicans to put their money where their mouths are.  If it's a good idea, stand up and vote for it; don't try to pretend that you're doing it to close a budget gap.  Me, I think the Republicans are too chicken  - and too dishonest - to do this.

Enough.

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