Today’s the day Wisconsinites gather for more than a Packer game. (Granted, Lambeau Field seems far more unifying.) Today is the recall election for the state’s chief executive. For more factual details on what has progressed to this point, please read our week old post entitled “Discerning What Is Wise.” Today’s respectful opining focuses instead on what’s actually at stake.
In order to genuinely discern what’s at stake, step one is to whittle away the rhetoric. If you read hyperbolic editorials or listen to the latest rhetorical robo-call, you may hear the following, actual claims:
“The Final Battle In The War Against Unions Is Underway”
“Wisconsin Can’t Wait”
“Governors Declare War on Nurses and Teachers”
“Governor of the Year: Scott Walker”
“We Hate Walker!”
Scott Walker has been Wisconsin’s CEO for only 18 months, and yet, in that brief period of time, “America’s Dairyland” has been transformed into the national hotbed of polarized politics. What’s synonymous with polarized, political hotbeds? Rhetorical abundance. Factual manipulation. Limitless passion. Record distortion. And a total disrespect of dissenting opinion.
(Note: more people in Wisconsin need to read the Intramuralist.)
Clearing away the rhetorical chaff, there exists no Wisconsin “war.” Last I observed, while American armed forces fight bravely in Afghanistan, there is no war on women, no war on teachers, no war on Christmas, contraception, etc. Let’s not disrespect our troops by claiming military conflict where it doesn’t exist. Hence, there is no “war” in Wisconsin. The origin of this conflict rests in the question of whether or not collective bargaining should be limited. That is not war; that is a question… a question on which reasonable people disagree.
What is the long term impact of union contracts on state government?
And a secondary question that all reasonable people must also wrestle with: do labor unions funnel money to their candidates who, if elected, then return the favor by approving overly generous contracts?
Stop. Take a deep breath. Refrain from emotional argument.
Our opinions on the appropriateness of collective bargaining limitations say nothing about how we feel about teachers. That is an emotional argument simply serving to ratchet up the rhetorical volume. I had some great teachers; in fact, thanks to clever Mr. Cunningham, I’m now consistently utilizing my genuine interest in current events! And allow me to not speak solely of my own experience, as I’m also incredibly thankful for my sons’ educators, especially those who unselfishly empower my youngest, having special needs.
Yet how we feel about our teachers does not correlate to the relevant question. What is the long term impact of union contracts on state government? How have public employee pensions and insurance affected state budgets? Those questions must be asked and answered without all the rhetorical and emotional interference.
Notice California — a beautiful state currently strangled by massive debt. Public pensions have been a significant contributor to this noose. (FYI: Be careful when researching this issue; many partisan writers will claim an inaccurate percentage, omitting the key accounting issue of underfunding pensions, with some state funds scheduled to run out as early as 2017.) According to Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA), “Three times as many people are retiring as are entering the workforce. That arithmetic doesn’t add up. In addition, benefits, contributions and the age of retirement all have to balance. I don’t believe they do today. So we have to take action.”
Agree or disagree with the approach, the origin of the Badger political hotbed is a result of one state taking action.
Gov. Walker asked public employees (exempting law enforcement and firefighters) to pay 5.8% of their salary toward pensions and a minimum of 12.6% toward health insurance premiums. Previously in Wisconsin, employees paid little to nothing for pensions and an average of 6% toward healthcare. While the jury’s still out on long term implications, in these short 18 months, a clear majority of objective sources conclude that Wisconsin’s economic climate has improved.
Thus, the question: what is the longterm impact?
If rhetoric stays out of the way, today Wisconsinites might be closer to answering that question. The rest of the country will most likely also answer it soon.