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Why Walker -- and Wisconsin -- Won

June 06, 2012

By Michael Allegretti

The Wisconsin recall election is a defeat for public-sector unions, but a win for everyone else – taxpayers, Republican and Democrat, who have been footing the bill for special interests that play by a different set of rules. In restoring fiscal solvency and preserving public services, Gov. Scott Walker’s win strikes a blow for effective and vigorous government, putting to rest the frequent charge that conservatives hate government and want it to fail.

On the contrary. Thanks to Walker, government might now succeed in Wisconsin.

Walker scored a victory in a struggle that extends far beyond Wisconsin. States across the nation are seeking to restore the social contract between public workers and taxpayers.

Until now, public workers – organized into massive bargaining units through their taxpayer-funded unions – have essentially dictated the terms of their employment to the taxpayers whom they were supposed to serve. Wisconsin’s collective-bargaining process allowed generations of public workers to extort unsustainable pension and retiree health benefits, arcane work rules and other carve-outs that a private-sector worker couldn’t even imagine.

Tuesday, Wisconsin voters said enough. The urgent need to resolve the state’s fiscal crisis, tied to unsustainable public-employee costs, united citizens, regardless of party affiliation. Of course, Walker’s opponents – led by the state’s public-sector unions and affiliated national groups – didn’t see it that way. They tried to portray the governor’s actions, like restricting collective bargaining and requiring public workers to contribute more to their pensions, as a right-wing assault on unions and government services. But we now see that Wisconsin voters didn’t buy it.

For one thing, they understood Walker’s key point. The state’s $3.6 billion budget deficit, Walker insisted, posed a mortal danger to continuing public services. Either the state’s public employees could agree to make substantial changes to the way that they negotiated future labor contracts, bringing their terms of employment more in line with those of private-sector employees, or the state would have to cut vital services—likely accompanied by tax increases.

Wisconsin voters chose to support fairness among all types of workers. Even more, they chose to defend their quality of life by saying no to service cuts.

In this time of economic hardship, Wisconsinites rightly expected everyone to do his or her part to help put the state back on track. It became increasingly clear to residents that their public workers’ unions cared more about their own agenda than the state’s welfare. This intransigence allowed Walker, the incumbent, to present himself as the candidate of change.

Walker also helped shape this narrative. Shortly after the recall was announced, he established three clear criteria on which the relationship between public workers and taxpayers should be evaluated: equity in employment benefits and burdens between public and private workers; the preservation of core government services for all Wisconsinites; and—linked to both these goals—the improvement of the Badger State’s economic competitiveness.

Like Rhode Island’s general treasurer, Democrat Gina Raimondo, who often referred to "truth in numbers" as she led a successful bipartisan movement to overhaul the state’s ailing public-pension system, Walker explained his reforms more in terms of math than politics.

First, he demonstrated quick wins which his reforms had already produced, such as the fact that the Kaukauna Area School district had moved from a $400,000 deficit to a $1.5 million surplus, so it could hire additional teachers and cut class sizes. Wisconsin residents began to understand that these changes could mean more money for schools, libraries, parks and health care – not less.

Walker also pointed to examples from near-state rivals to support his message. He cited, for example, Illinois, a state with the nation’s largest unfunded pension liability. Walker warned Wisconsinites of an equally dire future if his reforms were jettisoned mid-stream.

Conversely, he looked to thriving Indiana — where Gov. Mitch Daniels had rescinded collective bargaining rights for public employees in 2005. Walker argued that his reforms would work – as Daniels’s had — if they were allowed to take hold.

Walker’s agenda was implicitly positive. Proponents of the recall movement, meanwhile, revealed themselves as guardians of an old order — one favoring one class over the rest. With unemployment stubbornly high, wages depressed and an economic malaise hanging over the nation, Walker offered a new choice.

And Wisconsinites took it.

Original Source:



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