The Wisconsin State Senate has spoken and now awaits the mere formality of Gov. Scott Walker’s signature. The result was the only outcome possible. The Governor had to get the concessions on wages and benefit contributions from a fiscal standpoint. He also followed through on his promise to model the Wisconsin system after the Indiana system. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels eliminated public-sector union collective bargaining rights as soon as he took office. He also has the track record now in place illustrating the flexibility that was afforded him in reining in and restructuring the state’s cost structure.
It’s a model that will be duplicated across the country. The end result will be a large-scale exodus from public-sector union rolls. As the dues diminish, so will the leverage. The debate and protesting will rage on and progress to who knows what level, but the writing is on the wall. The state budget crunches are only now starting to ramp up with the Obama stimulus money drying up. With no option but to balance their budgets according to law, state’s across the country will require the flexibility afforded by removing the public-sector union roadblock. That’s just a fact. Right or wrong, it will happen.
There is much confusion surrounding the events in Wisconsin, but it really isn’t that complicated. The wage and benefit concessions are to balance the budget this year. The removal of collective bargaining rights are for controlling costs going forward. That’s it a nutshell.
There is more confusion concerning civil service rights. Wisconsin state civil service laws only cover state level employees. Police and firefighters are exempt. Teachers employed by localities are not covered under state civil service protections. They may, however, be covered by county and local civil service protections. In fact, Wisconsin Code Chapter 63 requires a civil service commission for every county with at least 500,000 inhabitants. Madison qualifies for this. Counties with less than 500,000 inhabitants still may employ a civil service commission, it’s just not mandated under this section of the State Code.
In other words, every county in Wisconsin can have a civil service commission if so desired. They are then free to establish civil service protections for all county employees. Same goes for Wisconsin cities. Nothing is preventing teachers or other municipal employees from having basic civil service protections even if they aren’t employed by the state.
This is not what these employees and the unions have in mind. Their desire is strictly for bargaining rights over wages and benefits. Gov. Walker is leaving in place collective bargaining rights for wages so that’s a moot point. So the entire debate boils down to collective bargaining rights over benefits. Teachers can still bargain over wages and civil service protections can be installed at state, county and local levels to cover all levels of employees.
What is busting the budgets of states and local municipalities across the country? Pension and health care obligations. All of the other distractions and smoke and mirrors can’t hide the fact that this single question is the entire issue. Can state and local governments continue to afford their pension and health care liabilities given the state of the economy? The answer is clearly no, so that also makes clear where this debate is going to end up.