Monday, February 28, 2011

The Wisconsin temper tantrum

By Kelly Sloan

When it comes to cutting budgets and getting a handle on the debt and deficit, liberals continue to demonstrate that they are: (a) unwilling to recognize the economic issues at hand; (b) bereft of mathematical reasoning skills; or (c) simply could not care less.

President Obama's proposed federal budget, for instance, fails to address the one area in which any serious discussion of federal debt reduction must begin; entitlement spending.

Social Security and Medicare alone make up 36 percent of federal spending , by far the largest single element within the federal budget, (more than 2.5 times what is spent on defense, for example), and yet not a word was uttered about reforming these programs.

This, even more than the half hearted swipes at discretionary spending with one hand while shoveling more money onto the pile with the other, suggests that the Obama administration is somewhat less than serious about abating the debt which they, after all, had a large part in creating.

Meanwhile, at the state level, one of the largest contributors to out of control spending and resultant budget difficulties is the emergence since the early 1960s of public sector unionization. At least one Governor, Wisconsin's Scott Walker, has decided to try to solve the problem rather than ignore it. The helpful and contributive response from the left? Why, throw a public temper-tantrum.

Why are public sector unions such an economic disaster? For one thing, unlike their private sector counterparts, they are not subject to any market restraints on what they can ask for in terms of wages and benefits. A private sector union, despite any other damage it may do, is at least bound, to some extent, by what the market can bear.

Exact too high a wage or overly exorbitant benefits from a private employer and that employer must then raise prices to be able to compensate. If those prices exceed what the consumer can pay, the employer goes out of business (taking the union job with him). In this way, the marketplace acts as at least a partial check on private sector union power.

But in public sector wonderland, no such checks exist. Unlike the private sector, the government is not directly reliant on the market place for its revenue; it can simply raises taxes (fees, whatever), borrow the money, or redirect funds from other areas. When revenue cannot be raised, government can ration or decrease the quality of services — without the risk of going out of business.

Even in the odd instances where an individual can choose a private option to a public service (sending a child to private school for instance) the price differential is sufficient to negate any true competition. Without the pressure of the market to constrain, the government unions can demand wages and benefits far exceeding anything found in the rest of the economy.

It helps, of course, that the money being haggled over is the mere taxpayers, and therefore much easier for the government to give away than if it was their own.

Which highlights another problem; in the private sector, a union negotiates with the business owner, or an agent of the owner. In the public sector, the owners — the taxpayers — are ostensibly represented by their agents - elected officials - in negotiations with the unions. But the unions collect and donate vast sums to support candidates who will be sympathetic to their interests; in essence, they are hiring their own bosses. It is not difficult to see how this translates into a surfeit of influence that results in lavish handouts.

Being faced with a budget crisis and a dire financial situation in his state, Governor Walker took all this into account, and acted accordingly — identified the biggest problem and set about to correct it. His proposals were far from egregious; he offered legislation that removed collective bargaining from being used as a weapon by a group which has no business wielding it, and requires state employees to contribute a little towards their own retirement (like the rest of us), and to pay 12 percent of their health care coverage (roughly half what most of us pay in the real world.)

The childish, and quite frankly selfish, antics of government workers, union bosses, and absentee Democrat legislators -coupled with the federal Democrats ignoring of the entitlements issue — prove that the left still refuses to acknowledge the real issues, and demonstrates that they quite simply cannot be trusted with the taxpayer's money. It is heartening that at least one Republican out there is proving that he can.

This article was first published in the Grand Junction Free Press, Feb 25, 2010 Reprinted with permission.

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