California may be next for backlash

Freedom New Mexico

The near-anarchy that swept Greece last year hasn’t come yet to the United States, but there are similarities. As in Greece, thousands of workers who rely on taxpayers for their livelihoods have poured into Wisconsin streets to protest. Similarly, they protest entirely reasonable and necessary economies proposed by their government to ward off insolvency. Likewise, they insist they have a right to live well, no matter how burdensome it becomes for those who pay the bill.

California’s fiscal condition is just as dire for the same reason: a voracious appetite of government worker unions. An ultimate showdown is coming to determine whether government exists to serve the people or the people it employs.

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker and a GOP legislative majority energized by Tea Party support in November’s election propose modest and reasonable reforms needed to keep Wisconsin from becoming the Greece of the Midwest.

The response in Wisconsin has been for Democratic legislators to flee the state, rather than vote on the reforms. Thousands of unionized government workers flooded the capital, including many of the state’s well-paid public school teachers, so many of whom played hooky that schools were closed in three cities. Mr. Walker has been demonized as a fascist and likened to Adolf Hitler.

All of this because he wants public employees to pay a little for their pension and health care benefits — so little it would still leave their contributions the second-lowest among Midwest states for family coverage, and still paying less than paid by 85 percent of workers at large employers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city. Today, most Wisconsin public workers pay 1 percent or less toward pensions and only 6 percent toward health care costs.

For perspective, even after the reforms, government still would guarantee 94 percent of pension and 88 percent of health care costs, which the Wall Street Journal’s John Fund says leaves Wisconsin public workers at about the national average for pensions, and less than half the national average for health care.

The real stumbling block and root of the conflict is Gov. Walker’s plan to eliminate unions’ collective bargaining, except for proposed salary increases higher than the Consumer Price Index. He wants to allow state employees to opt out of having union dues automatically deducted from paychecks, and to require unions be re-certified annually by a majority vote of all members.

Gov. Walker threatens union clout. Money automatically extracted from paychecks — up to $1,000 a year for teachers — finances union-backed politicians and ballot measures and opposes efforts to lower government spending and taxes. Workers withholding dues would weaken unions, but might help teachers pay something toward their health coverage, or save for retirement.

Collective bargaining on top of civil-service job protection creates a privileged class. Worse, it empowers public-sector unions to effectively elect their own bosses, making pay and benefit negotiations a farce.