The message coming from the thousands of public service employees is clear, but disingenuous. In the beginning, it was about their displeasure over being required to pay for their health care benefits and pensions. Once public opinion showed that most citizens found that to be a reasonable request, they changed tactics. Now, they have no problem with paying more for these benefits. In fact, they seem to love the idea. In Wisconsin, newly elected Governor Scott Walker went a step further, requiring collective bargaining be used by unions only in negotiating salary. This takes away the unions power to demand increasingly expensive medical benefits and pension plans. In many states, these two culprits have led to increasing debt as the costs have sky rocketed. Unions have made it clear that they are not concerned about the states budget problems, and have had the attitude of “that’s not our problem.”
The most disturbing thing about the protests and subsequent public opinion surveys is that the propaganda spewed by the unions seems to be working on an overwhelmingly clueless citizenry. In an editorial for USA Today, Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, stated that taking away collective bargaining rights, “does nothing to balance our budget.” This is the new rallying cry of the unions. Sympathetic news outlets allow this nonsense to go out on the airwaves without challenge.
Under the Wisconsin plan, public employee unions will continue to bargain collectively for wages. This is something that can be planned for by a state budget office, allowing states to have a “ballpark” figure of public employee costs. However, under current law, states must negotiate expensive and unpredictable costs of health and pension benefits. Allowing unions to demand more expensive health benefits every time they negotiate new government employee contracts is not a sane way to insure states can maintain a balanced budget, as Wisconsin is required to do.
So, yes, Mary Bell, collective bargaining does have something to do with the budget. And, yes, allowing the state to set benefits and pension plans will allow them to be as generous as the budget will let them be. Not allowing the unions to demand more than the state can afford in this area is a step in the right direction for states who have seen pension and benefit costs destroy budgets year in and year out.
Public opinion polls show that a majority of those questioned favor allowing unions to continue collective bargaining. But I have yet to see a poll ask respondents whether they would accept tax increases every couple of years to pay for the increasing cost of state workers benefits. I bet we’d see a different set of numbers if they did.