Monday, February 21, 2011

On, Wisconsin!

Over the past two weeks, all hell has broken loose north of the Cheddar Curtain at the birthplace of the Progressive political movement, Madison, Wisconsin. Similar to Governor Chris Christie of NJ, Wisconsin's newly elected Republican Governor, Scott Walker, is doing a few things that people are just not used to from a politician: he is telling the truth, keeping his campaign promises and doing what is right rather than what is easy. 

What is right? It is right for the Gov. Walker to balance his state's budget as he promised his constituency during his campaign. He told the truth about the state's finances and explained that Wisconsin, like many other states was "in the red."  In order to fix the problem, tough choices and spending cuts had to be made. 

One of the places he went to make up for his shortfall was teachers. His bill proposes that teachers pay a larger portion of their health insurance premium.The bill says that 
"state employees, as well as employees of public authorities created by the state,who work more than 1,565 hours a year shall pay $84 a month for individual coverage and $208 a month for family coverage for health care coverage under any plan offered in the tier with the lowest employee premium cost; $122 a month for individual coverage and $307 a month for family coverage for health care coverage under any plan offered in the tier with the next lowest employee premium cost; and $226 a month for individual coverage and $567 a month for family coverage for health care coverage under any plan offered in the tier with the highest employee premium cost."  
Compare that to what workers in the private sector pay, and you can see that this is a great deal!  Personally, I pay $250/month for individual coverage on a medium tier plan, which is more than double what the Governor is asking of his state employees.  Also, the average income of a teacher in Wisconsin is about $77K (over $100K in Milwaukee county) which is more than twice I make in my underpaid position.

The bill also requires that state employees pay a greater portion of their pension contribution.  Most of America pays 100% of the ir own retirement, that is those who are fortunate enough to be able to actually save for retirement.  Again, a great deal and nothing to complain about. Yet they whine and complain anyway and hold up signs that say "Tax the Rich" and compare their governor to Hitler, terrorists and dictators. Their behavior is selfish, greedy and a disgraceful model for the children they are supposed to be educating.  

The biggest issue that teachers have with this bill which is not reported with any accuracy is that the bill limits the collective bargaining power of the teacher's union to wages only.  It removes the right for benefits and pension to be included in the bargaining process from this point forward.  It also limits wage increases to the inflation rate and requires increases beyond the inflation rate to be decided by the voters via referendum.  These are modest reasonable controls to put in place to control and curtail out-of-control state employee expenses.

The media has misreported the collective bargaining part of the bill and allowed a fervor to grow out of fear that Gov. Walker is out to squash the unions. It would be interesting to learn what percentage of protesters even know what the bill says that they are protesting.  It seems more that they are whipped up into a frenzy by their union leader and by hearsay and not by fact.  If one reads the bill, the parameters are quite clear.  Also on this matter, the media show irate teachers fear-mongering to all those who will listen to "Watch out" because "your state could be next" when the truth is several states have similar or more stringent provisions in the works or on the books.
Lots of states, faced with swelling pension and health-care costs and yawning deficits, are seeking to curb public-sector pay and benefits. A few are going further by trying to trim the power of the unions that defend civil servants’ wages. This week Ohio’s legislature took up a measure similar to the one being pushed by Mr Walker in Wisconsin, denying state and local employees collective-bargaining rights. A bill before the Florida Senate would prevent the state from deducting union dues from salaries, and make it harder for unions to spend money electioneering. As it is, many states already limit collective bargaining by public employees in one way or another; and North Carolina, Texas and Virginia ban it altogether. (From The Economist. The Wisconsin Way)   
The truth is that unions have outlasted their usefulness. When work conditions were unreasonable and unsafe, and wages were too little to sustain one's life, unions were necessary to set things right. Between the upsurge of union activity and corresponding legislation, the plight of the average worker was changed and the problem was fixed. Once unions learned how much power they could obtain, they grabbed all they could and instead of looking out for what is fair, they held corporations' feet to the fire for more and more wages and benefits which drove consumer prices higher and higher while, as especially evident in the automobile industry, quality went down.  Not just in the auto industry, but also in the schools.  Teachers are not rewarded for excellence and their wage increases are not based upon merit.  Once tenured, job security is pretty much guaranteed until retirement with no additional effort required.  The result is that our students perform poorly in comparison to other industrialized countries. Work hard for three years, then coast. That's quite  a racket!

What bothers me more than anything is that so many people do not seem to understand that demanding money from your government, whether it be local, state or federal is demanding money from your neighbor who works just as hard, if not harder for their own money which they should be able to keep as much of as possible, no matter how much they legitimately make. . Government employees, teachers included in most cases get paid greater than the national median income and have far better benefits than those in the private sector.  So they should be grateful to those who foot their bill to make them more money than they make themselves. Would they knock on their neighbor's door and demand a percentage of their income face-to-face? They might find that task a little difficult.  Instead they are calling their taxpaying neighbors by the collective name "government" or "state" and making the very same demands.  If state workers want more money, that has to come from somewhere; that somewhere is taxes.  "Taxation," says Judge Andrew Napolitano "is legalized theft."  Think about that!

There also seems to be a trend among the left-leaning wealthy to develop what I perceive as a psychological defense mechanism called "liberal guilt."  We see this most prevalently with stars of TV, film and sports whose origins were most likely modest and now live with such excess that it is incomprehensible even to them.  The resulting cognitive dissonance creates a conundrum whereby they love being rich and living extravagantly on a consciously, but unconsciously they believe they don't deserve it.  They thrive and feed on the luxurious consumer-driven American capitalist economy and simultaneously express utter disdain for that very thing that brought them the riches they so enjoy.  On some level they know that they are paid ridiculous sums for acting or playing a sport. What are they to do?  If they had any character, they could purge their guilt by living a modest lifestyle and giving all leftover moneys to the government of their own free will as a donation to society.  But instead, they maintain multiple residences, fly privately, make ridiculous demands (see: The Smoking Gun - Backstage Ridersand call for the imposition of a redistribution of wealth through a Socialist or Communist government.   So, since taxing the rich is what the teachers want,  let them stick their hands into the pockets of those suffering from liberal guilt, and leave those of us who wish to keep our earnings alone!

Stand strong, Gov. Walker and continue to do what you said you would.  We need more politicians with such integrity. 

Helpful links:
ORIGINAL SOURCE: Senate Bill 11 from Wisconsin Senate
The Difference Between Private & Public Sector Unions Explained
NEA Leader explaining what's important to the teacher's union