The old saying is that “elections have consequences.” That truism is playing out in Wisconsin, where Republicans were swept into control of statewide offices in November. Wisconsin Democrats and their supporters are trying to thwart the Republicans’ agenda — to the point where Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate have high-tailed it out of the state to prevent the Senate from achieving the quorum it needs to conduct business.
The key issue at present is public employee unions. New Governor Scott Walker and Republican legislators want to change the collective bargaining rights of most public employees and require those employees to pay half of their pension costs and 12.8 percent of their health care costs. Wisconsin is facing significant budget shortfalls, and the measures are expected to save $300 million during the next two-year budget cycle. Public employees, their unions, and Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature adamantly oppose these efforts. Public employees have flooded the Wisconsin capitol building to protest; many were teachers who called in “sick” to participate. Meanwhile, stout-hearted Democratic state senators boarded a bus and fled Wisconsin so they would be beyond the jurisdiction of the Senate Sergeant at Arms. The Democratic senators who skedaddled have been found at a Best Western resort in Rockford, Illinois.
It tells you a lot about the power of public employee unions in the Democratic party that they can prevail upon elected officials to engage in such a petulant and embarrassing stunt. And it tells you even more about the sweet deal that public employees must have in the Badger State if paying only half of their pension costs and less than 13 percent of their health care costs causes them to prevail upon their Democratic allies to go to the mattresses. Most private sector workers I know would be thrilled to have their employers paying half of their pension contributions and 87 percent of health care costs. And who do you suppose is paying for the sumptuous lodging at the Rockford Best Western?
This drama will be reenacted elsewhere, as cash-strapped states look to employee costs as a place to achieve savings. The issue may be coming to a head soon here in Ohio, where a bill attempting to overhaul collective bargaining for public employees is working its way through the legislative process. Yesterday there were large rallies for and against the measure at the Ohio Statehouse.