Tag: scott walker

Government Unions — beyond Wisconsin

As Scott Walker in Wisconsin and other governors try to rein in the soaring costs of government employee pay and pensions, the Cato study ”Vallejo Con Dios: Why Public Sector Unionism Is a Bad Deal for Taxpayers and Representative Government” takes on new relevance. Here’s the executive summary:

High rates of unionization in the public sector have led to very high labor costs in the form of generous collective bargaining contracts. Now state and local governments are under increasing financial pressure, as a worsening national economy has led to decreased revenues for states and municipalities—many of which remain locked into the generous contracts negotiated in more flush times. Thus, as businesses retrench, governments find themselves in a financial straitjacket. In addition, as government unions grow stronger relative to private-sector unions, their prevalence erodes the moderating influence of the market on the demands that unions make of employers.

Now, as an economic downturn threatens state and local government revenues, officials who want to keep their fiscal situations under control would do well to look skeptically at public-sector bargaining—especially since the existing political checks on it have proven ineffective. Public officials should eschew public-sector bargaining when possible, or at the very least, seek to limit its scope.

As keepers of the public purse, legislators and local council members have an obligation to protect taxpayers’ interests. By granting monopoly power to labor unions over the supply of government labor, elected officials undermine their duty to taxpayers, because this puts unions in a privileged position to extract political goods in the form of high pay and benefits that are much higher than anything comparable in the private sector.

This paper shows how the unionization of government employees creates a powerful, permanent constituency for bigger government— one that is motivated, well-funded, and organized. It also makes some recommendations as to how to check this constituency’s growing power—an effort that promises to be an uphill struggle.

Indeed it does. The study makes another point that is worth keeping in mind during these battles. Many discussions of government unions, such as this one on Friday’s Newshour, tacitly or explicitly assume that we’re talking about teachers, police officers, and firefighters. But the study notes:

Of course, while these “heroic” public servants are the ones who are most visible in public disputes over collective bargaining, a large number of unionized state and local employees fall into more mundane categories such as secretaries, middle managers, engineers, administrative law judges, school custodians, and cafeteria workers.

Showdown in Madison

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Should Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker be commended or criticized for his proposal to change certain collective bargaining agreements for public sector employees, adding that Republicans won’t be “bullied” by protesters?

My response:

In November the government-union cabal that has driven Wisconsin, like other states, to the brink of bankruptcy was thrown out of office in a landslide election. So what are the union thugs now occupying the capitol and the state’s Democratic senators who’ve fled the state complaining about? The lack of democracy. That so many are “teachers,” waving signs likening Gov. Walker to Hitler and Stalin, gives rise only to sympathy for the children of Wisconsin.

In fact, if ever there were an argument for separating school and state, it’s unfolding today in Madison. Private schools in the state are functioning quite normally through this Athens-like spectacle, because they operate under normal market conditions, where parents, administrators, and teachers decide personnel matters through voluntary agreements. By contrast, as the Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards has shown through numerous studies, because public-sector unions occupy, effectively, both sides of the bargaining table, their pay and benefits over the years have far outstripped those of private-sector workers who pay those benefits.

Well the taxpayers spoke in November. The unions’ beef is with them. Deal with it.

High-Speed Federalism Fight

In October, I speculated that the upcoming elections could be the nail in the coffin for the Obama administration’s plan for a nationwide system of high-speed rail. Indeed, some notable gubernatorial candidates who ran, in part, on opposition to federal subsidies for HSR in their states proceeded to win. However, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made it clear in a recent speech to HSR supporters that the administration intends to push ahead.

LaHood’s message was targeted specifically to incoming governors John Kasich in Ohio and Scott Walker in Wisconsin, who argued that HSR doesn’t make any economic or practical sense for their states.

LaHood said that states rejecting federal HSR subsidies won’t be able to reroute the money to other uses, such as roads. Instead, LaHood said the rejected money will redistributed “in a professional way in places where the money can be well spent” — i.e., other states. And sure enough, other governors were quick to belly up to the Department of Transportation’s bar in order to grab Ohio and Wisconsin’s share.

From the Columbus-Dispatch:

New York Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo has said he would be happy to take Ohio’s money. Last week, California Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein wrote LaHood saying that California stands ready to take some, too, noting that several states that elected GOP governors this month have said they no longer want to use the rail money for that purpose.

“It has come to our attention that several states plan to cancel their high-speed rail projects. We ask that you withdraw the federal grants to these states and award the funds to states that have made a strong financial commitment to these very important infrastructure projects,” Boxer and Feinstein said in their letter to LaHood.

This is a textbook example of why the Department of Transportation should be eliminated and responsibility for transportation infrastructure returned to state and local governments. If California wishes to pursue a high-speed rail boondoggle, it should do so with its own state taxpayers’ money. Instead, Ohio and Wisconsin taxpayers now face the prospect of being taxed to fund high-speed rail projects in other states.

If California’s beleaguered taxpayers were asked to bear the full cost of financing HSR in their state, they would likely reject it. High-speed rail proponents know this, which is why they agitate to foist a big chunk of the burden onto federal taxpayers. The proponents pretend that HSR is in “the national interest,” but as a Cato essay on high-speed rail explains, “high-speed rail would not likely capture more than about 1 percent of the nation’s market for passenger travel.”