Collective Bargaining, Budgets and Political Power - What's Really Going On In Wisconsin?
The showdown between the Wisconsin governor and the public employee unions has dominated the news for the last week. It has all the elements of a political thriller; a defiant governor, legislators who have fled the state, a capital under siege by protestors and counter protestors Missing in all the discussion about the drama is the real purpose of the legislation. This bill has little to do with budgets and debt and everything to do with establishing political power in Wisconsin and around the country.
There is no question many states in the country are in trouble financially. It is basic fiscal economics of revenue vs. spending. When states spend more than they bring in in taxes there is a deficit. Either revenue has to increase, spending decrease, or a combination of the two. There is almost no way to handle the debt problem by just addressing one side of the equation. In Wisconsin, the state had a surplus until Governor Walker cut corporate taxes, creating a deficit. It is somewhat disingenuous to portray public employees as living off the tax payers. They are tax payers themselves. All tax payers help fund things they may never use or even agree with. Not to mention these public employees are doing much needed jobs that they deserve to be paid adequately for.
The real issue in Wisconsin and other states such as Ohio, Indiana, New York, New Jersey and Florida is an attempt to solidify Republican political power by greatly restricting organizations that generally support Democrats. By greatly restricting or eliminating the ability to collectively bargain, the organizational strength of unions is removed. Without the ability to bargain for wages and working conditions, unions are essentially rendered irrelevant. This will have a large carry over effect in elections. Unions could not organize or raise money as effectively, meaning they would have less influence. It is no coincidence that the two major public unions that endorsed Governor Walker, police and fire, are exempt from this bill. Governor Walker stated himself, in a telephone conversation he thought was with a wealthy donor, that the real intent was to break the unions.
This is also a coordinated national effort. In that same phone call Walker said he talked to Governor Kasich of Ohio every day, and mentioned the governors of Michigan, Florida and Indiana; all Republicans with similar legislation proposed in their states. Governor Christie in New Jersey has publically spoken out against public employee unions since he was elected.
It is very questionable whether the proposed legislation would help balance state budgets as advertised. The loss of collective bargaining will almost certainly lead to reduced wages and jobs. This will reduce consumption which will lead to lay-offs in other areas. Lower consumption and employment means a smaller tax base for the state to draw its revenue. As was seen earlier, lower revenue leads to more state debt if the loss of revenue is not matched or exceeded by reductions in spending.
By weakening the ability of unions to organize and campaign Republicans can win more state houses and governor’s offices which will solidify their hold on political power. While it’s questionable whether the taxpayers will benefit from this arrangement, wealthy Republican backers most certainly will.