Last night Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate passed a bill that enacted the most contentious element of their proposed budget, the stripping of many of the state’s public unions’ collective bargaining rights through a procedural measure by stripping the element from the budget and ensuring that it contained no language of direct fiscal effect, allowing them to pass the bill without the three-fifths quorum necessary to pass any bill with fiscal impact.
While it does seem that this standoff will be politically costly for the GOP in the near term, I don’t think that it’s been particularly edifying for the unions or Democrats who are now complaining of the unfairness of passing the measure through a procedural technicality which they blocked using a procedural technicality. While in the short term, the public sector unions have garnered some public sympathy, the erosion of their power means that less state money will be funneled into liberal activist outlets, which will curtail some of the Democratic Party’s power, as James Kirkpatrick points out at Alternative Right.
In the long run, however, it’s hard to see where this will lead. If Democrats manage to win back both houses and the governorship at some point, which is a likelihood, given Wisconsin’s recent role as a Democratic-leaning swing state, they will be sure to restore the powers that this year’s Republicans are managing to curtail. While I don’t think that public sector unions are justified entities, it seems that my view is a minority one for now and I doubt that we’ll see Republicans flee across the border when the tables are turned.
For now, Wisconsin has won a respite from the rent-seeking powers of public employee cartels.
Recently, the liberal magazine Mother Jones published a collection of infographics under the headline It’s the Inequality, Stupid, which was connected to Kevin Drum’s article on the standoff in Wisconsin, which had the subtitle “How screwing unions screws the entire middle class.”. Here are two of the infographics and their associated captions:
WINNERS TAKE ALL
The superrich have grabbed the bulk of the past three decades’ gains.
OUT OF BALANCE
A Harvard business prof and a behavioral economist recently asked more than 5,000 Americans how they thought wealth is distributed in the United States. Most thought that it’s more balanced than it actually is. Asked to choose their ideal distribution of wealth, 92% picked one that was even more equitable.
As a further supplement here’s a pie chart by Alex Knapp showing financial wealth distribution:
One of the first topics I want to broach is the ongoing protests in Madison, Wisconsin by public sector unions objecting to a portion of the budget favored by Governor Scott Walker which strips them of the right to collectively bargain on issues of benefits and hiring practices. In the meantime, the state’s Democratic senators have absconded across the border to Rockford, Illinois to avoid apprehension by state troopers in order to break quorum and block the bill.
It is worth describing the background to this crisis before I give my opinion on the matter. Wisconsin is in bad shape fiscally and economically. It’s budget deficit rivals that of California on a per capita basis. In last November’s election, the state went from Democratic control of the governorship, the assembly, and the senate to Republican control of all three institutions.
Wisconsin was a state that pioneered the establishment of public sector unions in 1959. Part of the reason that this budget fight has gotten national attention is because of the possible political effects outside the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin was the first state to allow collective bargaining among public employees as referenced above. Since then, many states have followed Wisconsin’s example leading to a map of public sector collective bargaining laws that cuts along regional and cultural lines:
As Wisconsin lies at the core of public sector collective bargaining rights, both historically and culturally, a Republican victory on this issue would send shock waves through the nation and would encourage other states to use similar measures to balance their ailing budgets and prevent municipal default.