Wisconsin’s Austerity Crisis
I was watching a documentary about high speed trains not too long ago. I was taken aback when it was said that one of the major factors that keeps high speed trains out of the United States is the railroad unions. A high speed train will require tracks with a concrete foundation and it is very expensive to build. But after it is built, the maintenance cost associated with the trains of the future drop dramatically. And since it really doesn’t need anywhere near the maintenance of the old railroad tracks laid down on a design based on wooden tresses that dates back to the 19th century to handle steam locomotives, a lot of maintenance jobs will be lost and the unions want to keep the status quo. It was a prime example of unions standing in the way of progress.
And I’m sorry if I offend, but once upon a time I saw firsthand how the teacher’s union blocked a school district’s attempt to remove a teacher with a less than substandard record. The lack of a positive impact the teacher should have been making on students took a backseat to keeping the teacher’s job. I understand the fact that unions need to prove their worth to their union dues paying members by doing all it can to protect members interest. But like corporate America chasing dollars, unions sometimes forget that there is a bigger purpose, a bigger picture than saving a job. Keeping the status quo isn’t always the best way to do things.
But while there will always be examples of unions doing more harm than good, there are plenty of examples of unions doing more good than harm. So, like corporations, they can sometimes be a necessary evil. It is because of unions that the standard work week is forty hours and most of us enjoy a weekend and paid vacations and a lot of our workplace benefits. Unions have their place and not every union is run by a Jimmy Hoffa wannabe.
So it was with a somewhat neutral position that I started to look at what was happening in Wisconsin with the conservative Governor Scott Walker taken on the unions that represent many of the public employees. It is Mr. Walker’s position that the state is broke and that public workers need to make sacrifices and do their fair share to put the Wisconsin economy back on track. Wisconsin is operating with a budget deficit and cuts need to be made. And what better way to make cuts in the budget other than by forcing public employees to sacrifice the benefits that were negotiated and agreed upon when times were good?
Now one of the reasons Wisconsin is operating at such negative numbers is because one of the first things that Mr. Walker did as governor of the state is to give more tax cuts to the wealthy and to the businesses that operate within the state. Mr. Walker wanted to stimulate his economy. Now when Mr. Walker took the keys to the state from his predecessor, Wisconsin had a balanced budget and an unemployment rate that was far below the national average. But now that billions of dollars that were given away as tax cuts to the upper echelon somebody’s got to pay for it, and that’s where the average public employee Wisconsin joe in a union comes in.
The budget deficit crisis that Mr. Walker referred to was of his own making. And it follows the modern orthodoxy of looking out for the wealthy while sticking it to people who are just trying to make a living. It’s kind of like the game in Washington, D.C. where the conservatives pushed for a continuation of the tax cuts that heavily benefitted the rich, but right after it was approved turn around and demand that everyone else make huge sacrifices for the good of the nation’s economy.
However, the public employees conceded. The unions have agreed to Mr. Walkers’ demands that some of the public employees pick up the tab for the tax cuts to the rich. But Mr. Walker has an even bigger agenda in mind. He wants the collective bargaining power of the union eliminated. He wants to bust the union under the guise of fiscal austerity. There will be no agreement without this final concession necessary to protect the long term future of the state. It’s just a coincidence that public employee unions that supported Mr. Walker like the state troopers are exempt from any of these measure meant to protect Wisconsin’s future.
Mr. Walker knows he has the support of the Wisconsin legislature that is comprised mostly of his fellow conservatives. The only way this union busting freight train was stopped was for the liberal legislators who oppose Mr. Walker’s plan fled the state. Without their participation, the conservatives don’t have enough participation for the vote to take place. The Wisconsin political government is grinding to a halt. And like any good political theater, fingers now point from both sides to the other sides.
People have descended onto the Wisconsin state legislature like killer bees on a honey covered bear. I’m sure a lot of these people now regret not being more proactive in their political happenings. Mr. Walker ran on a campaign full of promises to follow a conservative agenda. I guess a lot of people didn’t take the man seriously. I bet they’re taking him seriously now. Not two months in office, Mr. Walker has not only created a budget crisis, he has helped to make a political crisis that looks amazingly like a tea party town hall meeting on steroids. And they’ll have another four years of his heavy handedness to look forward to.
Too many politicians like to say that we all have to make sacrifices as they try to sell us on austerity measures. But when it comes to the well to do amongst us, they’re asked to do nothing that comes close to tightening their belt. If anything, the well to do is given every largess on a government issued platter. Their idea of sacrifice is not getting that company outing at the luxury resort in the Bahamas. But thanks to the constant push for more corporate tax cuts, it’s a sure bet that those days of rich people denying themselves are on their way out if they’re not finally over already. Too many of our politicians have turned into some kind of Robin Hood where they steal from the poor to give to the rich. It looks like Mr. Walker is doing his best to become the poster child of these merry men.