As everyone knows by now, the Democrats of the Wisconsin Senate fled their state over two weeks ago, in order to preserve the lavish benefits and collective bargaining privileges of the public unions they represent. The reason they chose this tactic is that Governor Scott Walker’s restrictions on collective bargaining were part of a budget bill, and Wisconsin requires three-fifths of the Senate to be present in order to establish a quorum for certain types of fiscal legislation.
Governor Walker tried everything possible to entice the fugitive Democrats back to their posts, ranging from attempts to make a deal, to the threat of dispatching law enforcement to bring them back. The Democrats were utterly intransigent. Their union paymasters ordered them to take all necessary measures to over-ride the will of the voters and preserve those powerful collective bargaining privileges. Without the massive amount of taxpayer money laundered through public unions and pumped back into Democrat campaign coffers, the party would be severely handicapped in future elections, so the fugitives remained dug into their Illinois motel rooms.
The standoff had its political costs for the Republicans, too. Why any Wisconsin tax serf would fight to preserve the gold-plated union benefits he finances is a mystery, but there were enough of them to put some heat on the Republicans – who were easy to confront with complaints, since they weren’t hiding in “undisclosed locations.”
Governor Walker always had an option to break the stalemate. Wednesday night, after exhausting all reasonable alternatives, he finally took it. The Republicans removed the fiscal measures that would have demanded a three-fifths quorum from their budget repair bill, and passed the remaining measures, including the requirement for public employees to make modest contributions covering 12 percent of their health care premiums and 5 percent of their pension plans. The proposed restrictions on collective bargaining by public employee unions were also passed.
The budget repair bill now moves to the state Assembly, which is dominated by Republicans. Doubtless there are many colorful demonstrations planned for Thursday. I expect the union troops will modify their signs to declare Scott Walker is the love child of Hitler and Qaddafi, instead of Hitler and Mubarak, since old Hosni is yesterday’s news.
As Governor Walker repeats in a Wall Street Journal piece written for Thursday morning, his objective has always been to resolve his state’s $3.6 billion budget deficit without “massive layoffs or increases in property taxes.” If the Democrats’ quorum-busting tactics were allowed to prevail, they would surely have repeated the maneuver to prevent any “massive layoffs” against the unions they represent. This would leave no alternative but huge tax increases. The people of Wisconsin voted for Republicans who promised not to increase taxes. The end result would be taxation without representation. Any Wisconsin taxpayer foolish enough to support the Democrats should think long and hard about that.
How would the tactic of quorum-busting figure into the workings of a lawful republic? What conditions would govern the deployment of this extra-legal measure? Could Republicans use it too, when Democrats were on the verge of passing legislation they severely disapproved of? It’s easy to see the entire concept of representative government disintegrating in a flurry of midnight phone calls to the front desks of Illinois hotels. Do we really want to set the precedent that one party can essentially secede from the government after losing an important election?
As the Governor reminds us, “most workers in Wisconsin would love a deal like the one” he is proposing to the public unions. The public unions insist on a vastly better deal than any taxpayer is getting. They are willing to use their political power to shut down the government, to protect their spoils. It is very clear they believe the taxpayers work for them, not the other way around. It’s a pity Governor Walker was forced to use his “nuclear option” to demonstrate the true relationship between public employees and the government that employs them.
If the unions mount an illegal strike in retaliation, Walker should fire the lot of them without hesitation. There will be no shortage of unemployed non-union workers eager to step in and fill the vacated positions. The national Democrat Party has seen to that.
The fugitive Democrats can finally check out of their motels and come on home. I hope they remember to pack their cameras. There should be lots of peaceful, civil, enlightened discourse to photograph in Madison when they arrive.