Pro/con: After Wisconsin, are Public unions still relevant? NoNo: Public-sector unions only suck up dwindling taxpayer resources
By: Robert Romano, for the Duluth News Tribune
Should public-sector unions be abolished? One governor seems to think so.
“I think really government works better without them. I really do,” said Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, appearing on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace on June 10.
He was right. Public-sector unions really serve no purpose other than to suck up dwindling taxpayer resources to pay for lavish pension and health benefits that threaten to sink state and local governments into insolvency.
Consider the facts. The combined debt of all states nationwide reached more than $4.2 trillion in 2011. Add to that another $2 trillion to $3 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities and trillions more in untold health-care liabilities.
It’s hard to argue that much good at all has come from allowing public employees to collectively bargain. Except it’s no bargain. All taxpayers have to show for it is a bill that cannot be paid — even with exorbitant taxation, as California is learning.
Daniels’ comments came after Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s crushing victory over Tom Barrett in the June 5 recall.
The vote there was viewed largely as a referendum on his policies to rein in government-worker benefits. His plan requires public employees to pay more into their own health-care and pension packages, guarantees recertification elections for the unions every single year and prohibits state agencies from collecting union dues.
After abortive attempts in recent years to rein in such excesses in states such as California and Ohio, Walker’s win in Wisconsin might be a turning point in the battle between taxpayers and their governments.
Daniels, too, has quite a track record of reining in the unions in Indiana. In 2005, he restricted collective bargaining for state workers. In 2011, he did it again for teachers. And now he has signed a law giving all employees, public and private, the right to decide if they wish to join a union.
Such reforms, taken together, are helping to restore the consent of the governed. No longer will taxpayers at the state level be enslaved to pay for the level of government the government demands.
For that’s all collective bargaining in the public sector essentially is. It creates another branch of government and, through the process, locks in ever-higher levels of benefits for public employees.
Often, collectively bargained union-benefit packages cannot even be amended. All state legislatures can do is vote to approve the final budget that includes the benefits. Does that sound democratic?
So, really, the only solution was to put those benefits back on the table of things that could be cut or modified by legislatures. People’s elected representatives should be making these decisions, not Big Labor.
Limited taxpayer resources are not to be bargained with — and certainly not by politicians and unions, which then simply funnel the money back into their political coffers. It is hard to think of a more corrupt practice in our republic.
But perhaps if Mitch Daniels and Scott Walker have their way, those days are coming to an end. For government to keep its legitimacy it must maintain the consent of the governed, and that will not happen while taxpayers are viewed as mere conduits to transfer their hard-earned money to corrupt union bosses and politicians.
Robert Romano is senior editor of Americans for Limited Government (getliberty.org), which has headquarters in Fairfax, Va.