There is so much to comment on relative to the events in Madison, Wisconsin this week. Choosing between them is difficult. There’s the idea of an elected government refusing to do it’s most basic duty, teachers derelict behavior and poor example for their students, buses driving from out of state into Wisconsin (full of pro-democrat, pro-union protesters), buses driving out of state (full of democrat members of the legislature who refuse to vote on a budget they don’t like), and President Obama’s weak and harmful statement yesterday supporting the public sector unions that would bankrupt Wisconsin citizens all to please a constituency.
But I choose to write about how Wisconsin is a perfect illustration of a problem that threatens our nation’s very existence, and how it is a bellweather for America’s future. The issue in Madison is, as it is in almost every municipality and state in the union, the outrageous pay, health benefits, and retirement plans for most (not all) public sector workers, and whether or not these will be allowed to continue unchecked until our economy reaches a disastrous point of no return. It is not an exaggeration to say these issues could destroy America.
Let’s summarize what Governor Scott Walker is trying to do. The state he is responsible for is facing a $3.6 billion deficit over the next 3 years. He has put forth legislation which will require state employees to contibute 5.8% of their salaries to their own pensions, rather than the .2% they contribute today (that’s “point two” percent, or 2/10ths of 1%). He has also asked that they increase their contribution to their healthcare plans, on average from 5% to 12% of the costs of their plan. There are other provisions curbing automatic salary increases (the only “automatic increases” would be based on inflation, still a generous perk) and ending public sector union’s right to collective bargain their retirement plans. But it’s the healthcare and retirement provisions that have stirred the democrats to action.
Let me put these numbers in perspective by comparing them to the private sector, and when I say private sector I mean all of us who are not fortunate enough to work for the government (statistics are from the Department of Labor):
1. Average private sector individual contribution to healthcare insurance: 20% (Wisconsin public sector is currently 5%, and the Governor is asking to increase to 12%).
2. Private sector individual contribution to pensions: 7.5% (Wisconsin public sector is .2%, with a requested increase from the Governor to 5%).
This is all taking place in the context of salaries which are higher than the median sector salaries of private sector workers, where taxes have exploded, and where deficits are ballooning out of control.
What we should ask these protesters (at least the ones who are actually Wisconsiners) is, “what is it that is so special about you that you are entitled to pay, health benefits, and retirement benefits that are so much better relative to the population that pays the taxes to fund these? What right do you have to ask the hard working citizens of Wisconsin to take their hard-earned money and give you such lavish compensation, compensation that is hugely disparate from what they themselves receive?”
Make no mistake, this is a battle that must be won, in Wisconsin and in every state House and Governor’s mansion in America, and in Washington. In order to do so, responsible governors should be careful to make some key points and not get distracted by false and exaggerated arguments from the unions and a sympathetic mainstream media. Here are the key points, in order of priority, that should be hammered home to all Americans:
1. Public sector workers perform valuable services for our communities and this is not about slandering the work they do or the value of that work.
2. Over the years union pay and benefits have gotten out of control, and we now have a situation where, for similar work, public sector salaries, health benefits, and retirement benefits dramatically exceed that of the average citizen, and this is neither fair nor sustainable.
3. The root cause of this compensation disparity is the huge campaign contributions and powerful connections of public sector unions. They have so much influence over politicians it is nothing short of racketeering and bribery. This is extremely unhealthy for our society.
4. Compensation for public sector union workers is unsustainable. In one way this means we are making false promises to workers, and are telling them they’ll have benefits that we won’t be able to provide for them in the end. In another way, it means that prior to the time bomb exploding, we will see taxes increase on citizens to the point where we bring our economies to their knees, until they finally break and benefits completely end.
5. While we encourage government leaders to do their duty and fix this problem, we also encourage public sector workers to look at this with a fair eye and to be reasonable with their fellow citizens. They should ask from us only that we pay and provide benefits that are competitive with those in the private sector. In summary, they should as a matter of conscience ask us only to give them the same things that private sector workers get.
Watch carefully America. Our future hinges on the resolve of Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo, and other leaders who have the opportunity to pull us back from this precipice.