The Chicago Tribune has an excellent must-read article on the underlying issues at play next Tuesday in the recall election where Wisconsin citizens decide whether to replace Governor Scott Walker or leave him to finish out his term. The title of the Tribune piece is "How Much Should You Pay" and succinctly underscores the national implications of a local contest.
For most Americans, though, this vote is less about the parochial matter of who governs Wisconsin than it is about a question now raging coast to coast: How much should recession-weary citizens be asked to pay for how much government?
National polling continues to identify governments' spending and debt as issues that animate a big share of the electorate. Politicians often respond that Americans will change that tune when they see how budget reductions slash services. Tuesday's election will inform that debate: Voters will declare whether they do, or don't, regret electing an aggressive cost-cutter as their chief executive.
They produce an analysis on the impact of Walker's controversial budget reform bill from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
In April, 10 months into Act 10, Walker's office announced that his policies already had saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $1 billion. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did a detailed accounting, verifying more than three-fourths of Walker's claim, with the rest — such as estimated savings from changes to overtime and sick leave — not possible to calculate.
But the big picture isn't lost on many Wisconsinites: By cutting spending, limiting property tax hikes and freeing local governments from some personnel costs, officials could trim spending without trashing services. In fact, the savings have let governments avoid cuts they otherwise would have had to impose.
The Journal Sentinel analysis explored the impact of Walker-driven changes in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer: The local school district is saving $1 million in pension contributions, health plan adjustments such as increased co-pays, and changes in the workday. "We had many teachers tell us, let's save everybody's job," said Brown Deer Superintendent Deb Kerr. "We didn't cut programs. We didn't raise class sizes. And we maintained our level of staffing."
Those positive effects help explain why Barrett, in his attacks on Walker, doesn't dwell on collective bargaining — the issue that energized those 2011 Capitol protests.
Other impacts of Act 10 undermine not just labor's warning that services would suffer, but also the sheer size of its membership: Eliminating automatic collection of union dues exposed the willingness of many workers to quit organized labor. The Wall Street Journal reports that public unions have had stark drops in membership — of more than half for the second-largest, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Membership in the AFSCME council representing state workers has plunged by two-thirds, from 22,300 to 7,100. And the American Federation of Teachers has lost 6,000 of its 17,000 members.
Oh, and that projected $3.6 billion state deficit? Wisconsin now expects a surplus of $150 million at the end of the biennium.
Besides limiting the unions ability of collective bargaining, Act 10 requires public workers to contribute about 6 percent of salary to their pensions, and pay about 12 percent of their health insurance premiums.
According to a study recently released those changes are still below what private sector employees pay:
However, even following Act 10, pension benefits for Wisconsin public employees are roughly 4.5 times more valuable than private sector levels while are about twice as generous as those paid by larger private sector Wisconsin employers. This difference results in a combined salary-benefits compensation premium of around 22 percent for state workers over private sector workers, with varying but often larger pay advantages for local government employees.
Wisconsin's recall election may be a state contest but the implications nationally are tremendous.
A win for Walker, in conservative's minds, proves that states running a deficit can balance their budget, can produce a surplus, without trashing services and without raising taxes on it's citizens.
Apply those implications to the country as a whole and compare Barack Obama and liberal's assertions that raising taxes on the most productive segment of our society, job creators, investors and businesses, is the only way to lower the nation's massive deficit, to Walker's proof that it can be done without raising taxes, and it is easy to see the importance of the Wisconsin recall election on June 5, 2012.
Polling averages still has Walker 6.6 percent over Tom Barrett for Tuesday's recall election. (Numbers at link change as new polling data is produced)