Scott Walker Is No More Anti-Union than FDR

The recall battle against Walker speaks volumes about the misguided priorities of modern-day progressives

Those trying to oust Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in a June 5 recall election are portraying him as a wild-eyed, Koch-brothers-controlled, right-wing ideologue hell-bent on destroying unions. In reality, Walker is more like a panicked accountant trying to fix the Badger State’s out-of-whack books. He’s no more anti-union and right-wing than the libs’ beloved FDR—and that’s his real problem.

Numerous websites have sprouted up dedicated to “keeping an eye on this radical extremist.” Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate has condemned Walker’s alleged “unprecedented assault on not just the rights of Wisconsin workers, but also our shared values and proud Wisconsin institutions.”

Walker just might survive these attacks thanks to his virtually unrivalled war chest of about $13 million, although the election will be a real nail-biter. He's only two points ahead among likely voters against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who'll likely emerge as his challenger after a Democratic primary today, the very man whom Walker originally defeated to become governor. But what exactly has Walker done to deserve a backlash that, if successful, will make him only the third governor in the history of the nation ever to be recalled?

He confronted a $3.6 billion biennial deficit when he assumed office last year. Raising taxes was not an option: Wisconsin already has the 45th-worst overall business tax climate in the country, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

So Walker did what a responsible bookkeeper would do: tackle the biggest driver of the fiscal crisis, public employee costs.

Liberals dispute the claim that government workers are paid better than private-sector employees. But one indication that public-sector employees are not suffering compared to private-sector workers is that their quit rate is far lower, Reason Foundation’s Adam Summers found two years ago.

And with good reason. Consider the facts in Wisconsin: According to Charles Sykes, editor of Wisconsin Interest, Wisconsin employees enjoy one of the best pension programs in the country, whose $1.37 billion annual price tag is wholly funded by the state—even the “employee contribution.” Likewise, employees contribute all of $936 annually to their $19,128 average family health insurance premium.

Walker’s draconian move involves making workers pay 5.8 percent of their salaries toward their pensions and pick up 12.6 percent of their health costs. Most private-sector workers, by contrast, get no employer-funded pension and pay about 21 percent of their health care.

In addition, Walker has restricted public employees’ collective bargaining rights to their wages, making other workplace-related issues off limits. This means that schools will no longer be bound by their union contract to purchase employee health coverage from the Wisconsin Education Association Trust, a teachers union affiliate. They can now obtain competitive bids, generating millions in savings. This has allowed the state to cut aid to schools and municipalities and balance its budget without triggering mass layoffs.

But what drove unions bonkers was Walker’s refusal to withhold automatic dues from government employee paychecks and make these dues voluntary (although he unfairly exempted cops and firefighter unions from this rule, likely because their opposition killed a similar effort in Ohio). This won’t be good for unions, but it’s not a tragedy for progressivism—something even FDR understood.

After all, he once declared: “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” There is something obscene about collective bargaining rights for government employees whose appetites are unrestrained by market discipline. When private-sector employees demand more in compensation than they generate in value, their companies go out of business. But when government employees do the same, they burden citizens with higher taxes and debt, which is one reason why Wisconsin—like nearly every other state—is saddled with unsustainable state worker-related legacy and other costs. This is why no president’s administration—Democratic or Republican—has ever advocated such rights for federal workers.

But Walker is like FDR not just in his antipathy to public-sector unions, but his support for mandatory private-sector unionism. He has pledged not to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state (like its neighbor Indiana), where workers in union shops would no longer be required to pay mandatory dues as a condition of employment. This is a big mistake: It will undercut Wisconsin’s competitiveness and make it harder to restore robust economic growth.

That, however, is not the only way in which Walker reflects an FDR-like understanding of the economy. Contributing to his political vulnerability is his previous campaign pledge to “create” 250,000 jobs—as if that’s something that politicians can control. So far, he’s added only 15,000. And last month, the Badger State lost jobs, giving it the worst job creation record in the country.

Walker is blaming political uncertainty, but what’s his cure? Not wholesale tax reform (although property taxes have declined slightly on his watch) or regulatory overhaul, as would befit a “free-market ideologue.” Instead, he announced this week that he’ll pump $100 million into rejuvenating the depressed parts of Milwaukee. His opponents are condemning this as a vote-grubbing gimmick. But that makes no sense, given that Milwaukee is a heavily Democratic area and this election is extremely polarized along party lines with very few undecideds. The more likely reason is that Walker seriously believes that he can buy growth and jobs through such “investments.”

In short, Walker won’t end forced private-sector unionism, lighten Wisconsin’s hefty tax burden, or abandon government spending to stimulate economic growth. All this would have made him a Democrat in FDR’s time. That modern-day progressives are branding him as a right-wing radical says far more about them than him.

Reason Foundation Senior Analyst is a columnist at The Daily where a version of this column originally appeared.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Stephdumas||

    I saw this article where Tom Barrett faced some internal competition from former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk.
    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-G.....nity-party

  • Marshall Gill||

    Walker reflects an FDR-like understanding of the economy.

    You mean he doesn't understand shit?

  • ||

    Heresy! FDR should have proclaimed himself Caesar! He was the greatest man who ever lived, a savior of America's economy and society! Public school taught me so.

  • JoshSN||

    It was FDR's socialism, and the great quantity of gub'mint public schools back then, that caused America to lose WWII.

    Bringing electricity to the South would have been done by private industry, they were just, um, well, they were _about_ to electrify the rural South, FDR and his evil TVA got in the way! That's the ticket!

  • Killazontherun||

    Progressive era utility monopolies slowed down the growth of electrification for more than a generation before TVA, so fuck you with a chainsaw, slaver.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    If you judge by the actual results (not just the military defeat of the Axis nations but the world that resulted from the war) America did lose WWII.

  • JoshSN||

    Well, that's got to take the cake. Congratulations. I've heard some pretty wild stuff before, but that's just amazing.

    America actually lost WWII.

    Seig Hail, EnjoyEverySandwich-san.

  • ||

    Don't forget curing polio and your erectile dysfunction.

    Don't forget, if that goddamned activist supreme court hadn't declared the NRA unconstitutional it wouldn't have taken a 405,000-casualty jobs program to bring us a recovery in a scant 12 years. Thank God we had Top Men at the helm.

  • Brian from Texas||

    Yeah really. The same Liberals who idolize the same FDR who rounded up thousands of American citizens and locked them up in concentration camps for no other reason than their ethnicity.

  • JoshSN||

    "Most private-sector workers, by contrast, get no employer-funded pension and pay about 21 percent of their health care."

    Is that really true? I've gotten some amount of matching 401(k) contributions from most of the places I've worked full time.

    I honestly didn't know most people don't even get that.

  • Drake||

    I think they are only talking about defined-benefit pensions.

    I think all public-employees should only get a 401k (403b technically) match. Then they can save and retire whenever they want with no future cost to the government.

  • ||

    Hey, did you know that a 401(k) is not a pension plan? True story.

  • sloopyinca||

    He has pledged not to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state (like its neighbor Indiana), where workers in union shops would no longer be required to pay mandatory dues as a condition of employment.

    Nitpicking here, but Indiana is not Wisconsin's neighbor. The sewer of Chicago, Illinois separates the two.

  • ||

    Meh. Walker is basically Sarkozy with thin hair and no trophy wife. His challenger, Barrett, is more like President Hollandaise Sauce.

    Look what happened in France, Dalmia. I suspect strongly that is Walker's fate, even with the last minute "targeted economic stimulis" bribes. Voters, by in large, gravitate to gimmes and it's hard to enact reforms if you aren't in office.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Is there any chance that, even if Walker loses, this will be a Pyrrhic victory for the Democrats in Wisconsin, like Prop 187 was for Republicans in California?

    California Republicans won the ballot initiative fight, but the stigma of having supported 187 was so bad, the only Republican they could get into the governor's mansion since was himself an immigrant with an accent.

    If the Democrats in Wisconsin succeed in ousting Walker, then what's the Democrat's prescription for what to do about their budget? Is going from absurdly high taxation to taxes so high they're bizarre the only solution they have on the table?

    How high do taxes need to go before the Democrats in Wisconsin acknowledge that cutting costs is part of the solution? Doesn't there have to be a line there somewhere?

    I guess they figure they'll never turn into Detroit, but then Detroit probably never thought it would turn into Detroit either.

  • jcw||

    re: Ken

    I have a friend that works in the state senate here in wisconsin as a legislative aide(D). It is her understanding that there doesn't need to be a solution. The public fund is "self-sufficient" even after the economic collapse in 2007/8. What I would like to see from Reason is some analysis of the problem and a strong conclusion of what needs to be done.

  • Ken Shultz||

    When you say the public fund is "self-sufficient", it sounds as if the problem to be addressed is keeping the government and its employees sufficiently fed with plenty of money.

    If that's not a problem, so what?!

    What if the problem is that the public fund is "self-sufficient"?

    What if the problem is that the "self-sufficient" public fund is bleeding all the taxpayers dry--and is likely to continue to do so unless Walker or someone else does something to stop it?

  • Flyover Country||

    The public fund is sufficient to pay jcw's salary and benefits is my bet.

  • jcw||

    a self-sufficient public fund means that it's spending less than it's taking in.

    Isn't that what we want?

    Sure, I'd prefer taxes to be zero or as close to zero as possible and I'd prefer entitlements to be completely reformed. But isn't the idea of living within your means something we should strive for?

  • Ken Shultz||

    a self-sufficient public fund means that it's spending less than it's taking in.

    As a business guy myself?

    How come that doesn't mean the public fund needs to take in less?

    If it's taking in more than its spending, then why doesn't it need to take in less?

    Is there anywhere else in the world where requiring less funds than it takes in--means that the amount of money it takes in shouldn't be slashed? Or is Wisconsin government the only place in the world where that makes sense?

    You understand the basic premise here, right?

    If I'm spending more money on gasoline than I need for gas? Then I need to slash my budget for gasoline and use that money for something else...

    If the taxpayers in the state of Wisconsin are sending more money in to the "public fund" than they need to? Then revenue to the "public fund" needs to be slashed, right?

    Right.

  • jcw||

    Are you arguing that entitlements don't need to be reformed in the State of Wisconsin, merely the taxes? That's what it sounds like you are saying. Please correct me if I'm wrong. If that is what you are saying, I disagree

  • Ken Shultz||

    I'm saying that according to what you wrote, the amount of money going into the "public fund" needs to be slashed.

    I don't know if what you said about the "public fund", whatever the hell that is, is true. I'm more inclined to believe that the statement about the "Badger State's out-of-whack books" is true...

    But even if--even if--what you're saying is true? That the "public fund" is taking in more than its spending? Then the revenue devoted to the public fund needs to be slashed.

    That's gotta be day one of Accounting 101.

  • JoshSN||

    Not if projected revenue and spending get out of whack in the future.

    That's "rainy day fund" 101.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If you want to argue that having the government overfunded is a good thing, feel free.

    But don't just make that argument to me. Don't just make it here at Hit & Run...

    Go tell the voters in Wisconsin!

    Tell the taxpayers that chronic overfunding of government is a good thing--because that way, if the economy turns bad, the government will still be well funded!

    I'd love to see the people of Wisconsin vote on the Walker recall on that basis.

    "Yeah, you're taxes are higher than they need to be, but that's because we're saving your money for tomorrow!"

    LOL

  • wareagle||

    do you actually believe such a fund is self-sufficient considering that A) virtually no such fund in any other state is and B) that your friend has a vested interest in not changing teh system?

  • jcw||

    there shouldn't be any kind of "belief" in this question. This should be a question of facts. That's why I suggested that reason do an article on the facts and see where the truth lies.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You're citing facts from an anonymous source you say you know, who works for an anonymous Democrat, and then you wonder why people question the credibility of your facts?

    Information about the current state of Wisconsin's finances should be publicly available.

    If you have information that goes against what everyone else is saying, then you should cite it.

  • ||

    Wisconsin has spent the last 30 years succumbing steadily to Dumbfuckistan syndrome -- that is, its electorate's infestation by leftists has made the authoritarian pestilence in the state powerful enough for a definitive slide towards progressivist government. I bet their next governor's going to be some proto-pinko fuckwad from Milwaukee, probably with a French name.

  • jcw||

    As a libertarian here in WI, my main problem with Walker is not necessarily the steps he has taken, but the manner in which he is taking.

    Him and his republican followers in the state senate break every rule and policy created in the past in the process of enacting his legislation and other such actions.

    I think of Walker like a rogue cop, someone who wants to get something done and is willing to break the rules to do it(I'm not okay with it).

    I'll be voting for barrett today in the democratic primaries. Here in Wisconsin, the unions hate him because he is pretty moderate and not willing to step in line in everything that the union wants. Actually, the unions have been paying for ads for the past couple months lambasting barrett and endorsing falk.

  • Flyover Country||

    There is no way jcw is a libertarian. He repeats all the Democratic talking points in Wisconsin.

    The Democrats broke the budget and are too beholden to the government sector to fix it.

  • jcw||

    Walker is a douche and is willing to break every senate procedure that's been in existence for decades.

    That's not a talking point, that's the truth.

    What I'm asking for is sufficient evidence that the wisconsin budget is "broken" so we can hopefully win some converts to fix it.

  • Flyover Country||

    "breaking senate procedure" cite?

    What union are you a member of?

  • jcw||

    I don't need a cite. I am very anti-union. Thank you for your blatant idiocy.

    State senate violated open meetings laws multiple times. Walker shut down a public building in violation of an injunction by local courts.

    I'm sure you'll be voting for Romney, since you sound like a republican. Libertarians look at the facts and decide. They don't decide and fashion facts to affirm their decision.

  • wareagle||

    please explain how dissident representatives simply leaving the state to avoid negative vote outcome constitutes working for the people. Oops; I forgot. The people the fleebags work for are the ones who contribute to their campaigns. But you stick with Walker being the problem.

  • jcw||

    Thanks for your straw horse wareagle. You are very good at beating it.

  • wareagle||

    I just find your selective recollection of events to be illustrative. All the bad stuff is Walker; no Dem ever pissed on policy. Your posts are all about procedure. Evidently, abandoning one's elected post is not a violation of it.

  • Flyover Country||

    No cite. No argument.

    Won't be voting for Romney. Didn't vote for McCain or Bush.

  • jcw||

    Thanks for your wonderful reply. I'd rather think I won't be posting a .pdf of the minutes of the state senate (which would be your cite), thank you.

  • Flyover Country||

  • jcw||

    if you read my statements, you would see that I'm looking for that kind of information. Thanks for the link,

  • Marshall Gill||

    Walker is a douche and is willing to break every senate procedure that's been in existence for decades.

    Hmm, so senate procedure is more important than sound fiscal policy? Very Libertarian.

  • jcw||

    Logic fail. When did I say that following senate procedure is more important than fiscal policy. Keep building up those strawmen and beating them up.

  • wareagle||

    just stop. All you have done is rail about Walker's not adherent to procedure. You offer nothing to criticize the substance of his actions, just the manner in which he's gone about them.

    You know who else did that?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5j2F4VcBmeo

  • JoshSN||

    And Jessup lost his case in that story.

    Talk about grasping for straws.

    It's almost like you just said "You know who else was a vegetarian! Hitler! " in an attempt to win an argument.

  • wareagle||

    since you are humor challenged, we'll try this in straight fashion: jcw accuses all who disagree of straw man arguments, yet the only argument he has made about Walker is in regard to procedure. Please. The guy claims to live in WI but knows nothing about its budget?

    He is either a sock puppet or a liar, and associating with him does not cast a positive light on you. Either of you is, of course, free to point out where Walker's contentions about the state's budget and how public pensions impact it are wrong. Thus far, no such evidence has been offered. Lot of bullshit has.

  • Randian||

    You didn't say it, but it is the implicit logic of your statements here. You said that your "main problem" with Walker is the manner in which he has accomplished goals that you find laudable. Which means, in effect, that yes, you do in fact value procedure > policy.

  • DarrenM||

    Which means, in effect, that yes, you do in fact value procedure > policy.

    Every reasonable persons understands that the ends justify the means.

  • Incredulous||

    Wow, how could you call yourself a libertarian and vote for Walker's opponent? The Dems FLED THE STATE to avoid a democratic vote and teachers violated anti-strike laws to protest and intimidate legislators. How is that not breaking the rules?

    If Walker loses, individuals lose out to superempowered unions. Liberty loses big time.

    I agree with Flyover Country - there's no fucking way you're a libertarian.

  • wareagle||

    this is a guy who claims to live in WI yet has no clue where talk of budget problems came from. Seems a credibility killer all by itself. Instead, he drapes himself in procedure and accuses anyone of pointing that out of making straw man arguments. We're going to remember the likes to tony and white idiot as the good old days of trolling.

  • 16th amendment||

    > As a libertarian here in WI, my main
    > problem with Walker is not
    > necessarily the steps he has taken,
    > but the manner in which he is
    > taking.

    The dems are worse, because they ran away from the state to keep the original bill from getting passed.

  • Sherlocktoo||

    jcw, you're either a liar, or you're stupid. Which is it? From your comments, you are certainly no libertarian, unless you are trying to re-define what a libertarian is, which is what a far left wacko liberal would do. I suspect you are one of the government union workers, who is mad at Walker. Most likely, one of the criminals who destroyed the capital. Barret lost in 10, and he gonna do again. So, go ahead and get another recall petition started, as the rest of the nation laughs as us for having an election on average, every 6 months. Oh, and Obama, is one and done.

  • sloopyinca||

    Where are our goddamn AM Links?

  • wareagle||

    But what exactly has Walker done to deserve a backlash

    probably a rhetorical question, but a simple answer: he has challenged the money laundering scheme through which union dues are filtered in the campaign funds of Dem candidates who, if elected, do the union's bidding.

    Had a huge argument with my aunt who lives in WI over this; she carried on about people's "rights" being taken away. Would not or could not wrap her head around the fact that no actual rights are involved, just a privilege granted to a specific set of employees for the purposes of political gain.

  • Incredulous||

    Exactly, Walker actually restored some individual rights by removing some of the unions' unconstitutional powers.

  • Registration At Last!||

    Walker is an anti-choice, anti-gay-marriage, climate-denying death penalty advocate. Progressives have plenty of reasons for questing after his scalp quite apart from union and economic policy.

  • ||

    Progressives already lost the last election on those grounds - the only thing anybody gives a shit about is the impact he's had on public unions. Which is why labor groups have dumped 7 million dollars into his recall.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    I'm just wondering: okay, so you replace Walker. Fine and dandy. But how will you pay the bills, since presumably replacing him will include repudiating the changes he made?

    It's the same thing that bugs me about the French elections. I'm sure it's emotionally satisfying to the socialists but how will they solve the actual problem? Ignore it? Or perhaps expect German workers to work until they're 90 so that Greek workers can keep retiring at 50 and French workers at 60?

  • JoshSN||

    For one thing, he plans to reduce the bills, by withdrawing from America's Glorious War in Afghanistan.

    There's a half billion dollars a year.

  • ||

    Wow, half a billion bucks huh? That'll fund about 1/6 of 1% of French public pension costs for the year. France is saved! Socialism works!

  • DarrenM||

    It's better than nothing and he did say "for ONE thing", implying there were others.

  • The Bob||

    Well, Obama's plan to tax the rich will pay off a whole day of the annual deficit. Democrats pretend that they don't know this and probably most of them don't.

  • 16th amendment||

    Hey hey
    Ho ho
    The union has
    Gotta go!

    Hey hey
    Ho ho
    The union has
    Gotta go!

  • JoshSN||

    According to the right-leaning Tax Foundation, combined Wisconsin state taxes have fluctuated, over the last 35 years, between 12.6 and 10.5%, and right now they are at 11%. It's hardly like it is out of line with a pretty long bit of history.

    He rolled back _some_ union rights. Not as many as you wanted, but some rights that Wisconsin state workers had had for a while.

  • DarrenM||

    "rights"? What 'right' was removed? Are you sure this is the term you want to use?

  • Danno||

    No only the right-to-work issue that hurts manufacturing in WI, but Walker passed a tax carve out to favor companies that move to Wisc over the native companies that have built profitable business and employ the natives: 2 years no income tax. Walker is better than Doyle but his economic understanding is not much different than the standard politician.

  • The Bob||

    Right to work is a sure way to attract business. Go ahead and bust Walker. Texas will welcome those jobs.

  • The Bob||

    Democrats call names like rotten chilren.

  • wifactcheck||

    I notice you identify all the Democrats in this article by their party affiliation, yet you only identify Charlie Sykes as the "editor of the Wisconsin Interest," presumably to make him appear to be a non-partisan observer.

    Charlie Sykes is the leading conservative right-wing radio personality in Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute is rabidly partisan organization supporting Scott Walker and local GOP politicians.

    It seems to me, you are doing your readers a disservice by failing to identify Sykes, as a leader of the conservative movement in Wisconsin.

    If you really want to suport your arguments, you should rely on truly non-partisan authorities like the widely respected Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

    Meanwhile, basing your argument on the word of Charlie Sykes and identifying him only as "the editor of the Wisconsin Interest," would be like the Daily Kos relying on the words of Keith Olbermann, but identifying him only as a "former ESPN anchor."

    Sure they're true statements, but they are also intentionally misleading.

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