Posts Tagged ‘Governor Scott Walker’

Where to Cut: Public Union Benefits or Defense?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s war on public-sector unions is being brought to the national stage by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). Coburn challenged members of Congress following the release of an exhaustive study by the Government Accountability Office that found many overlapping and duplicate programs from education to defense that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year.  The study found 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality, 47 for job training and employment, as well as hundreds of military clinics that could gain from consolidating administrative, management and clinical functions.

According to Coburn, a physician who some call “Dr. No” in the Senate because he places holds on legislation that he considers to be unconstitutional, “Government employees, although they’re fabulous and they overall do a great job, they produce no net economic benefit in our country.  Matter of fact, they produce a net negative economic benefit.  So if you take the drag off the economy by nonproductive implementation of capital what you’re going to see is that capital is then going to be put to use in something that is productive.  We’re not talking about letting go hundreds and thousands of employees — we’re talking about streamlining things.  Even if it were hundreds of thousands of employees, if we’re not borrowing another $300 billion additional next year because we streamlined some programs, that has some tremendous benefit to the economy as well.”

In particular, Coburn challenges federal job-training programs. “Job training is wasteful.  We put ‘help wanted’ on our government website and we’re getting people who have been through these programs who say they are a total joke and a total waste of time.  I want a job-training program that actually trains somebody to do something that they get a job for.  Why should we have 47 different separate job training programs?  Nobody understands them all.  If it’s a federal role — which I question – -then any job-training program ought to be designed so that you can measure its effectiveness.  None of the 47 has any metrics on it to measure effectiveness.”

Senator Coburn’s position could have an impact on his popularity, much as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker’s controversial stance on public-employee unions has lowered his ratings. A Rasmussen poll reveals that almost 60 percent of likely Wisconsin voters now disapprove of their governor’s performance, with 48 percent strongly disapproving.  The poll also finds that the state’s public school teachers are very popular with their fellow Badgers.  With 77 percent of those polled holding a high opinion of their educators, it is not particularly surprising that only 32 percent among households with children in the public school system approve of the governor’s performance.

On Wisconsin!

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker – a Tea Party favorite — accused the state legislature’s 14 Democratic senators of “vacationing” because they walked out of the State Legislature and took refuge in Illinois to avoid a vote that would strip most of the state’s employees of their collective bargaining rights.  Because of the Democrats’ absence, the Senate is unable to reach a necessary quorum to act. “Instead of stimulating the hospitality sector of Illinois’ economy, Senate Democrats should come back to the Madison, debate the bill, cast their vote, and help get Wisconsin’s economy back on track,” Walker said.

The Democrats are refusing to return unless Walker is willing to make concessions to the bill.  Republican legislative leaders – who are a majority with 19 seats — say they have enough votes to pass the bill as is.  Walker has rejected any compromise with thousands of pro-union protesters who have been camped out in the Capitol for a week, claiming that Wisconsin will lead America in weakening unions that have negotiated compensation packages.  Democratic lawmakers, union leaders and rank-and-file teachers and firefighters have asked Walker to revise his plan.

Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Ezra Klein notes that “The Badger State was actually in pretty good shape. It was supposed to end this budget cycle with about $120 million in the bank.

“More than half of the lower estimate ($117.2 million) is due to the impact of Special Session Senate Bill 2 (health savings accounts), Assembly Bill 3 (tax deductions/credits for relocated businesses), and Assembly Bill 7 (tax exclusion for new employees),” according to Klein.  “In English: The governor called a special session of the legislature and signed two business tax breaks and a conservative healthcare policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things).  The new legislation was not offset, and it helped turn a surplus into a deficit.  As Brian Beutler writes, ‘public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda.’”

That’s not the complete story, Klein notes.  “Public employees aren’t being asked to make a one-time payment into the state’s coffers.  Rather, Walker is proposing to sharply curtail their right to bargain collectively.  A cyclical downturn that isn’t their fault, plus an unexpected reversal in Wisconsin’s budget picture that wasn’t their doing, is being used to permanently end their ability to sit across the table from their employer and negotiate what their health insurance should look like.”

Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) expressed concern that Republicans might try to split off the union bargaining sections of the budget repair bill – which on its own would not be considered a financial bill – from the rest of the proposal. Republican senators have enough votes to pass a union bargaining proposal without adequate debate, Erpenbach said.  “Obviously we have a great deal of concern about it.  If they want this over immediately, that’s the only thing they can do.”

For Wisconsin’s teachers, the elimination of collective bargaining rights could mark a return to the days of regular strikes and workplaces where employees worry about taking too many sick days and the length of their breaks. “It is almost impossible for us to get our heads around the idea of no union,” said Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.  The association supports changes to the collective bargaining law – which has been in effect since 1959 — but opposes its elimination.  According to Turner, eliminating collective bargaining would radically change what is now a mostly cordial working relationship between school administrators and teachers.  “There is an established method for doing business,” Turner said.  “There is an understanding between management and labor about how things will work.”