Bargaining With Bankruptcy


Today is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s deadline for the fugitive Senate Democrats to return and resume their duties.  If they don’t, the state will lose $146 million it could have saved through debt refinancing, prompting even more severe cuts to a state budget that is already $3.6 billion in the hole.

Walker’s proposed budget cuts are quite steep.  He wants to reduce education aid by about $900 million, which naturally produces howls of protest from teachers unions.  “All of this turmoil, all of this chaos, are examples that Walker’s proposals are too extreme,” wailed Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, as quoted by the Associated Press.  Bell’s organization is, by far, the largest special-interest lobby in the state, outspending its nearest competitor by over two to one.  A big part of that $900 million cut is coming straight from the pockets of Democrat politicians.

What’s especially jarring about the Wisconsin circus is that its public unions have a white-knuckled grip on an empty treasury.  They don’t really try to deny the state is broke any more, as early propaganda efforts along those lines were mercilessly gunned down by people who can do math.  They just scream about the dire consequences of reducing their funding. 

Left unspoken, for the moment, is the logical conclusion that if the state is massively insolvent, and spending cannot be reduced, then gigantic tax increases are the only way to resolve the situation.  Wisconsin is already one of the most highly-taxed states in the nation, while its per-capita income is well below the national average.  Public unions are always careful about tugging the chains wrapped around the throats of their tax serfs.

Of course it will take severe spending cuts to bring the state’s finances back under control.  That is not Scott Walker’s fault.  He just arrived in the governor’s mansion, inheriting a disaster left behind by his Democrat predecessor, Jim Doyle.  One of Doyle’s hobbies was raiding infrastructure funds to pay off the Wisconsin Education Association Council, spreading the cancer of insolvency throughout the entire state budget.  He ran up the highest budget deficits in the history of the state.

Isn’t it funny how people who are still prepared to hear Barack Obama whine about how all of his failures are George Bush’s fault will not even consider the career of Wisconsin’s last governor?  Those people trashing the state capitol should really be camped out at Jim Doyle’s house.

This is the nature of government bankruptcy.  It accumulates at a steady pace for years, its true sources carefully obscured by politicians as a service to their biggest contributors.  When the system crashes, and a responsible leader issues a plan for recovery, he is denounced as a “radical” and vilified by the clients of the bankrupt government.  When the pain of an irresponsible decade arrives in a single moment, responsible men become the Devil.

This is why Walker is correct to break the collective bargaining power of public unions.  Arranging a few temporary concessions to make the 2011 budget look less horrifying is not a “solution,” it’s a tactic.  It would last only until the unions were able to install a more pliable governor… one who was prepared to tell Wisconsin taxpayers that unsustainable deficits are due to their greed, and the time has come for them to “pay their fair share.”  He would be safe in the knowledge that weary taxpayers wouldn’t trash the state capitol or camp out on the floor.  He could rest assured that the media would not celebrate legislators who fled the state to thwart his agenda as folk heroes, or insist their long-distance concerns be taken seriously.

The people camped around Madison had their chance to prove that collective bargaining for public employees could exist alongside accountability and fiscal discipline.  They failed.  Can a quality education be delivered without allowing unionized public school teachers to insist on fabulous benefit packages and job security?  It’s time to find out.  There is no other choice.  No amount of placards comparing Scott Walker to Adolf Hitler will change that.