9 of 12
Opinion: Waiting for Putin
10 of 12
Notable & Quotable
11 of 12
Notable & Quotable
12 of 12
Opinion: John Edwards and Justice
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Updated June 3, 2012, 5:56 p.m. ET
The Wisconsin Recall Stakes
A test of whether taxpayers can control the entitlement state.
A single election rarely determines a democracy's fate, but some matter more than others. Tuesday's recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is one that matters a great deal because it will test whether taxpayers have any hope of controlling the entitlement state and its dominant special interests.
Specifically, we will learn if a politician can dare to cross government unions and survive. Mr. Walker isn't facing this extraordinary midterm challenge because he and a GOP legislature asked public workers to pay 12.6% of their health insurance premiums and put 5.8% of their paychecks toward their pensions. Those are small sums compared to what private employees typically pay.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
His political offense was daring to challenge the monopoly sway that public unions have come to hold over modern state government through collective bargaining. Public unions aren't like private unions that negotiate labor terms with a single company or workplace. Public unions have outsize influence because they can often buy the politicians who are supposed to represent taxpayers. The unions effectively sit on both sides of the bargaining table.
Thus over time they have been able to extort excessive wages, benefits and pensions, as well as sweetheart contracts like the monopoly provision of health insurance. Their focused special interest trumps the general interest of taxpayers, who are busy making a living and lack the time to focus on politics other than during elections or amid a fiscal crisis.
Democrats—even liberals—once understood this danger and opposed collective bargaining for public workers. No less a Democratic hero than Franklin Roosevelt once said that collective bargaining "can not be transplanted into the public service." As recently as the 1970s, Jimmy Carter signed the Civil Service Reform Act, which reduced collective-bargaining rights for federal employees. But as public unions began to dominate the modern labor movement, collective bargaining became a sacrosanct part of the liberal agenda.
Mr. Walker and his fellow Republicans challenged that status quo, and the unions have reacted with such vitriol because they realize the threat to their long-unchallenged clout. They're especially incensed that the reforms ended the state's practice of automatically collecting union dues. Now dues are voluntary—and lo, many government workers are finding they don't want to join the union after all.
// lot's more for those who dial up this URL //