FRIDAY HOT READ: WHAT'S NEXT IN WISCONSIN
It’s now worth reflecting on how this change is and is not significant.
First, despite the howls coming from the left, Wisconsin’s new policies on public-employee relations will not be especially unusual. Only 26 states have laws that grant collective-bargaining privileges to substantially all public employees. Twelve have laws that give collective bargaining to some workers, and twelve have no statewide collective-bargaining law at all, though some municipalities may grant bargaining rights in those states.
And as I have been pointing out until I get blue in the face, most federal civilian workers do engage in collective bargaining, but wages and benefits are excluded from that bargaining, rendering it very limited. Far from seeking to strengthen the hand of federal-employee unions, Barack Obama has sought to impose a two-year wage freeze on federal workers through the budget process. If the federal government had a bargaining law like the one Wisconsin has today, he would be unable to do that.
So, while Wisconsin’s reform will make it easier to manage budgets in the state — especially municipal budgets, because most government workers are employed at the local level — the state will be operating within well-charted territory, not blazing a trail. Paul Krugman can stop worrying that this reform will make America “less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy,” unless he thinks places like Indiana and Virginia are third-world-style oligarchies
Congratulations to Wisconsin Republicans, who held together this week to pass their government union reforms despite unprecedented acting out by Democrats and their union allies. Three weeks ago we described this battle as a foretaste of Greece come to America, but maybe there's hope for taxpayers after all.
The good news is that Governor Scott Walker's reforms have been worth the fight on the policy merits. The conventional media wisdom is that Mr. Walker "overreached" by proposing limits on the ability of government unions to bargain collectively for benefits. But before he offered those proposals, Democrats and unions had refused to support his plan that public workers pay more for their pensions and health care. Only later did they concede that these changes were reasonable and will spare thousands of public workers from layoffs.
The collective bargaining reforms also mean that this won't merely be a one-time budget victory. Government unions know that financial concessions (and layoffs) they agree to during recessions are typically won back when tax revenues increase and the public stops paying attention. They merely need to elect a friendly governor. Mr. Walker's reforms change the balance of negotiating power in ways that give taxpayers more protection.