The ventriloquist dummies that pass for state policymakers these days are moving at breakneck speed to take away longstanding worker rights in Wisconsin. They say it has to be done right now to patch a hole in the state's budget for the current year, even though the Legislature's own nonpartisan budget analysts say there's no such short-term problem.
Green Bay-area business leader Paul Linzmeyer is right. What the dummies say is nonsense. Governor Walker and his allies in the Legislature are not doing this for budgetary reasons. Their inspiration is ideological. This is about politics, not state finance. This is about paying back big campaign donors and punishing political opponents. And yes, this is about union busting.
The health insurance and pension benefit concessions they are after would reportedly save the state about $300 million over the next two years. The deficit for the coming two years is now projected to be $3.6 billion. They expect us to believe it is worth ripping Wisconsin in two to solve less than a tenth of the long-term problem the state faces. And they expect us to believe it despite the fact it has become abundantly clear they could get the concessions without stripping workers of their rights.
These facts make the political games the dummies are playing plainly visible. All that aside, for me it boils down to this: Workers have a fundamental right to organize and collectively bargain with their employer. It is unacceptable under any circumstances to solve budget problems by taking away people's rights.
I am not a public employee. In fact, I've never been represented by a union in any job I've ever had. But I am not incapable of seeing and appreciating that all working people have benefited greatly from things unions have fought for and won over the years. We take for granted as a basic employment standard that workers have weekends off, 8-hour work days, 5-day work weeks, and paid vacation and sick leave. All of these things were won by unions.
My benefits aren't as good as those received by Wisconsin's public workers. My employer pays a third of the cost of the health insurance I have. I pay $789 a month out of pocket to cover my family, nearly $9,500 a year. There is no dental coverage. The Democracy Campaign covers one third of a rather meager monthly payment into an individual retirement account.
I'm not complaining. I consider myself lucky. I am paid to do work I love. My parents were dairy farmers and the family didn't have health or dental insurance at all when I was growing up. They had no pension plan. No weekends off or vacations either. Cows need milking twice a day, every day.
Although I fit the profile of someone who might resent public employee compensation, I can't begrudge state and local government workers their pay and benefits. A teacher's job is far more important than mine. A firefighter's is more essential. So is a police officer's. Plowing snow and picking up the trash are indispensable too.
Millions of dollars are showered on professional athletes for entertaining us. A good teacher is worth infinitely more to society than a good quarterback or starting pitcher or point guard. Yet I'm supposed to be bent out of shape because the average teacher in Wisconsin earns something like $51,000 a year? Hell, a truly outstanding teacher would be a bargain at $200,000 in my book.
A state budget is more than just an accounting of how much we'll be taxed and how those taxes will be spent. It is a reflection of our society's priorities. We need to get ours straight.