American Elephants

Some Elections Matter More Than Others: The Reasons. by The Elephant's Child

Some elections matter more than others. The recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker matters a lot.  But we may misunderstand why it matters so much. The media tried desperately to portray the election as a dead-heat, and too close to call, but the polls had shown Governor Walker leading for some time.

The question was whether taxpayers have any hope of controlling the entitlement state. Can a politician take on powerful government unions and survive?  For months, the American Federation of State, County,County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) had been busing in their members, and other unions had been adding theirs, to demonstrate in Madison, occupy to Capitol building and show their support for recall. They carried rude signs, issued threats, called vicious names, and screamed and shouted.

Public unions don’t operate quite like private sector unions which negotiate terms with a single company or a single workplace. Public unions, flush with member dues, can often buy the politicians with campaign contributions and get-out-the-vote efforts. The politicians, who are supposed to represent taxpayers, are often more concerned with their own reelection. So when the time comes to vote for raising union retirement benefits or improving health care the politicians’ choice is reelection or keeping taxes low? Public unions sit on both sides of the bargaining table.

Over time, public unions have been able to extort excessive wages, benefits and pensions. They have even been able to arrange contracts that allow monopoly provision of health insurance.

It is hardly surprising that state and local governments — required to balance their budgets —have been shocked to discover that the generous benefits they have given with the best of intentions to their union workers — are unaffordable. Governor Scott Walker’s principled stand may give them courage. So that is indeed important for the whole country.

But Governor Walker’s reforms ended Wisconsin’s practice of automatically collecting union dues. Now dues are voluntary. And it turns out that many government workers don’t want to belong to a union after all.

Since Governor Walker’s reforms took effect, membership in government unions has dropped significantly. Membership in the AFSCME has dropped from 62,818 in March of 2011 to just 28,745 in February of this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. 34,072 workers decided that they are better off keeping their own dues if they are not forced to pay them. The union can no longer guarantee monopoly wages and benefits. That is the very big deal for the left, and a significant crack in the Big Government Project.

The Big Government Project is all about special interests, and special rules that aid the special interests.  Everybody has good intentions, and they like to do nice things for their friends. And when the web of special interests becomes too wide and too thick, they inevitably vote themselves more benefits that society can support.

Big Government — the entitlement state — is in crisis. A recession, with thousands of people unemployed, businesses closed and less economic activity means governments at all levels are getting less revenue. The federal government with huge borrowing power and no requirement to balance the budget that can’t be put off, is somewhat immune, if irresponsible. Efforts to pass a balanced budget law have met congressional resistance. All states, except Vermont, have a balanced budget requirement.

When there is less revenue for a state, the excessive wages and ballooning benefits stand out like a sore thumb. And sweetheart retirement benefits, promised but unfunded, have many states in dire straits. And the people, who are designated to pay for all this excess, may just fire the public officials who have got them into such a mess.

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