Government Spending

Budget-Battle Showdowns: Coming Soon to a Statehouse Near You!


Wisconsin. Ohio. Michigan. New Jersey. New York. Budget-battle showdowns are coming soon to a statehouse near you.

Thousands of angry school teachers, union members, and their sympathizers have descended on capitals to fight against reducing pay and benefits for public employees. The protesters are up against a new crop of governors who are hell-bent on spending cuts to deal with deficits that may rise to combined $125 billion in the next fiscal year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) is looking for public employees to pay $500 million towards benefits they're currently receiving for free.

New Jersey's Chris Christie is proposing public employees pick up 30 percent of their health care premiums. Wisconsin's Scott Walker wants public employees to pay at least 13 percent of their health care premiums. And he wants state workers to start contributing to their retirements for the first time.

This newfound fiscal discipline comes after a virtually unchecked binge over the past 10 years during which state expenditures exploded by more than  80 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, including big bumps in overall worker compensation.

The most controversial aspect of the budget battles deals with public-sector unions and collective bargaining. Wisconsin's Walker and others argue that the current process is inherently stacked against taxpayers because the government isn't spending its own money like companies in the private sector do. What's more, taxpayers have no way of opting out of any agreement that's reached. In the private sector, consumers can always take their business elsewhere. That's the basic reason why progressives such as Franklin Roosevelt and labor legend George Meany were against unions for government workers. 

In a world of super-tight budgets, it's a foregone conclusion that public-sector workers are going to have to give back compensation. Public school teachers make up the bulk of government employees in every state in the country and they already make 35 percent more in straight salary than their private-school counterparts. There's also a growing gap between what they get toward retirement and what private-sector professionals receive.

Teacher union leaders in Wisconsin and elsewhere now say that educators are willing to accept less compensation – just as long as nobody cuts the union out of the deal-making. Whatever the fate of public employee unions in this, the winter of our discontent, there's no question that teachers and other state workers are going to have to get used to making less.

That's not a total fix, much less a revolution, but it counts as real progress in a country where every state government has spent itself to the brink of bankruptcy.

"Budget Battle Showdowns" is a joint production of Heritage Foundation and Written and produced by Jim Epstein and Nick Gillespie, who also narrates. Footage and other assistance from Dan Hayes and Clay Broga of FreeThink Media.

NEXT: The Obligatory Charlie Sheen Post

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  1. The real problem is, 1) pols have no appetite for protests, and 2) the public is fickle. The article presumes that the public would opt out of most of these things if they could, but polling has consistenly shown that people WANT massive services, paid for with deficits (because they also don’t want taxes). In a mobocracy, you have to give the people what they want. And they want debt.

  2. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) is looking for public employees to pay $500 million towards benefits they’re currently receiving for free.

    Hmmm, I might be able to attend a counterprotest in Albany…

    1. Me too. I drive past the marble tower of coercion every day on my way to work. See you there.

  3. Draco’s modest proposal appropriate for every state in the union:

    Permit teachers’ unions, but change the laws so that the government does not bargain with their representatives. Calculate the average salary and benefits package for private schools in the state each year. Make that the offered salary and benefits package for public school teachers next year, except subtract 5%. Since people overwhelmingly would want to send their kids to private schools if they could afford to, the private school teachers should be compensated at a rate which exceeds that of the public school teachers, which my proposal addresses. Fire any public school teacher who does not agree to these terms.

    Repeat each year until the public education system eventually collapses, through a combination of enough public school teachers using their cherished freedom of association (and possibly access to venture capital) to start new private schools, thereby arranging for themselves a 5% pay raise, or else just quitting their jobs and moving on to find another “body politic” to infest. Use vouchers in the interim to funnel money in the direction parents choose.

    Enjoy entirely private education markets, just as we enjoy private food, clothing, car, and gadget markets and all the excellence they provide.

    1. Education, like healthcare, is too important to leave to the profit motive. It’s necessary for everyone to have. It’s not like it is food or something.

      1. How can education be “too important to leave to the profit motive” when private primary and secondary schools usually provide a better education? It seems like it would be more accurate to say that education is “too important to leave to the state.”

        But I do think even state-supported schools could be greatly improved through the introduction of competition – both between themselves and with private schools. Unfortunately the teachers unions fight this idea at every turn.

        1. he was joking

          1. Yeah, that last sentence kind of makes that clear, doesn’t it? Been spending too much time reading some of those “other” websites lately – my bad.

    2. “Permit teachers’ unions, but change the laws so that the government does not bargain with their representatives. ”

      Sure, for the private sector. But we must eliminate government run schools entirely, for a host of reasons of which the public-union problem is only one.

  4. Every time you say “government give to me”, you are also saying “government take from them.” That’s how government works, and that’s the point libertarians and conservatives need to stress to win this debate with the public. (And indeed, I wonder how many protesters even realize that this is what they are asking for.)

    1. Well said.
      It just simply isn’t true that this is a “war” on the middle class.
      This is the middle class vs. the middle class.

  5. Just fire their lazy parasitic asses already. You call in sick to go protest? You’re gone, fuck you.

    1. Really, with people so easy to replace, why wouldn’t you do that?

      1. I’d move to WI to become a teacher if they did that, and I’ll take the state’s deal right now. Hell, I’ll take 15% less to sweeten the pot. Are you reading this, Scott? I can teach social studies and English and coach sports. Whaddya say?

        1. It’s certainly not market for the skills involved. People straight out of college can teach. Think about that for a moment.

          1. I’ve been teaching college students since I was a sophomore in college.

            1. That’s either scary or impressive…I’m not sure which.

  6. Government employees expectations are absolutely out of whack. In New Hampshire, Sen Bradley is proposing that “public safety” workers (cops and firemen) work 25 years and retire at 50, instead of the current 20 years and retire at 45. Also, “detail work” won’t count towards pension pay, thus preventing gaming the pension calculation as you near retirement.

    In other words, the “sacrifice” they are asked to make is retire at 50 ?!

    How about: work 40 years, retire at 65, fund your own 401(k) and pay 40% of your health insurance…don’t like it…quit, find a better deal in the private sector.

    Nothing being done now changes the fact that a government union job is a golden ticket.

  7. There was a “protest” of sorts here in WA state the other day, like any sanity would happen here anytime soon. I’d go counter protest, but it would probably be only me, Epi, and Paul. Maybe we should fly in some soccer hooligans from the UK and make it interesting.

    1. I would join you.
      Any organizing of a counter protest will be successful only if you look outside King Co.
      Even then, I’m afraid we’d need the hooligans!

    2. WTF was the protest for? As I read your first sentence, I thought you were talking about the protests against the police the other day in Capitol Hill. My question is, where did the protesters park?

      1. No, this was all the union hacks taking their presidents day holiday to make sure they’re in our leaders’ faces. I didn’t click on the link because I like my lunch to stay down.

        Some of the pics from the police protest will get your hackles up. Lots of anarchist flags:

        Linky linky

        1. They pepper-sprayed them?!? FUCK. That wasn’t on the news report that night. Fucking TV news.

          I seriously doubt those anarchists are my kind of anarchist, unfortunately.

          1. That’s what I mean. They’re anarchists in the sense that they want everything handed to them so they won’t have to work. So, not anarchists.

    3. A warning to anyone who considers joining a counter-protest, or otherwise getting involved under your real name if you have children in the public school system: think before you gamble with your kids’ future. There is a real chance that vindictive teachers will take it out on your kids, possibly harming their future prospects (e.g. by giving them undeserved bad grades). This is really a job for those who don’t have kids in the public schools at the current time. It’s sad to have to give this warning, but I believe that it’s warranted.

      1. They’ll never it’s me. I’ll dress as Buttman on stilts with a sign that says “The public teat will not suck itself!”. Everyone will think I’m Tony.

      2. Draco, is this vindictive behavior something you would do to someone who has a different view of an issue than you.

        I am a teaching working in Wisconsin for over 20 years. I am paid $45K a year, and when I retire, (for full benefits, my age and years of service must add up to 85), I will get a pension of $1200 a month.

        I assure you that not only would I never treat a student unfairly because their parents believe that I am over compensated, but the thought never occurred to me.

        When a friend of mine took the net present value of my total pension and medical benefits and then calculated what my salary would have been with those benefits paid it cash. We both agreed that I would have been better off investing in my own 401K and buying major medical for my family.

        The fact is that the state felt they were better off not giving me the money up front and banking on my early demise and good health.

        You might ask yourself if it is the benefits that are actually busting the budget or is it the years of tax cuts for the wealthy that have caused the problem. The wealthiest people in my state have seen over a 50% cut in their taxes over the last 18 years. And that’s just their state taxes.

        I have no intention of demeaning those who disagree with me, and I am willing to listen to their factual arguments. I think we all want to leave in a country where everyone pays their fair share for the bounty they reap.

        1. Taxes in Wisconsin are still too high, especially property taxes. The Packers are great and all, but people are not exactly lining up to move to Wisconsin. If the tax code remains punitive, WI will continue to lose people and businesses to other states, and that tax revenue would be lost anyway.

  8. One of the best things Ronald Reagan did was fire the air traffic controllers after their union got bitchy.

    This is what we need to do to all union workers, specially taxpayer-funded workers. Fire their asses, rehire them and don’t let them join any unions!

    Next Smoking Ban? Bus Stops.…..stops.html

    1. In WI, teachers using fake doctors notes should be the first to get the axe. NY is looking at ending LIFO, or Last In First Out. Teachers who are given unsatisfactory ratings, found guilty of chronic lateness or absenteeism or convicted on criminal or disciplinary charges that did not result in their dismissal, no matter how much seniority they have… can lose their jobs. Teachers whose students’ test scores are consistently low; those who have failed to secure their teaching certificates on time; those who haven’t had a permanent position for six months or more; those who’ve faced department probes leading to substantiated allegations of misconduct; and those granted an extension regarding tenure could also be dismissed.

  9. To be fair, FDR only opposed public union’s striking, as it would hold government hostage, and he believed that every good citizen should serve government to the utmost. Let’s not act like he had a fully developed rational thought or anything.

  10. Yep, pay cops, teachers, firefighters etc. less so we can give higher bonuses to Wall Street…average bonus of $138,000 and $135 billion in executive salaries of which a huge chunk came from our taxdollars. Yay

    1. So don’t give them our taxdollars.
      Revolt against the corporatist masters like Obama and Pelosi and Bush.

    2. If they end up being paid less when their salaries are determined in a market system, then weren’t they by definition overpaid?

      It also needs to be easier to fire shitty employees. Unions would have more credibility with the general public if they were willing to allow their worst members to be fired. It would increase their average productivity and also help to change the perception that they don’t really give a shit about those that they are supposed to serve.

      1. “Unions would have more cred… if they allow their worst members to be fired…”? Eh???

        A little naive bro. Educate yourself about bargaining units. See the post about the union mindset being a race to the bottom. They are all brothers and who said anything about serving anybody but themselves.
        Public “servants”, my ass.

    3. Wall Street doesn’t pay my taxes, and it isn’t a PEU, either.

  11. These unions are about to find out you can’t trick a trick. Get the money up front, or you get stiffed. 80% of the taxpaying public doesn’t work for the government and resents handing over their paycheck to this surly mob. All these old hippies did too many drugs in the sixties, if they think the public will cave in to their subversive little tantrums.

  12. Public Unions are just the Mob Collection agent for the Democrat Party. One would have to be brain dead not to recognize the corruption in Democrat politicians rewarding Mobsters with tax payers money in return for votes and money! In fact, the Unions and their hired Politicians have been so corrupt they are bankrupting this Nation!

  13. The Problem with public Unions go far deeper than just outsized Salary, Benefits and Job security as compared to private employees. If that was the only problem just adjusting Salary and Benefits would address the problem. But based on my experience the ratio of public employees is at least 5 to 2 for the same amount of labor by Public unions employees as compared to private employees. In addition to this much, if not most, work preformed by Public employee,s is not necessary or required. Rules and regulations etc. have been added for years to make work-fare.

    So public work has become welfare by another name.

    A cost benefit study of every Dept. and Job plus employee performance evaluation in Local, State and Federal would result is eliminating many depts. and making great cuts in employees in other depts. and reduce total government size and cost by least 60% and providing better service!

  14. You said it all. In the first decade of this century, GDP went up by around 40%, while state and local spending increased by more than 80%. It is not a revenue problem, it is a spending problem.

  15. Imagine that if you repaired a leak under your sink you still had to pay the local union plumber. That is essentially what now happens in education. If you choose to home school or send your kids to a private school, you still pay the salaries and benefits of public school teachers, given that the lions share of property and income taxes goes to education.

    The policeman that requires you to pay teachers is the Democrat Party. In turn teachers and other public union members send millions in dues, which are extracted from the tax paying public, to Democrats. Teachers and other public union folks are the force behind tax increases of all kinds, given that more taxation is good for the public employee paycheck.

    This is why the symbiotic alliance of public employees and their political benefactors must be broken.

    Private union members do not have the lock on your wallet that public employees do. If you don’t like the price of the union plumber, you can hire a non-union plumber. But no such competitive relief exists in the public sector. As government grows larger and larger, encouraged by public sector unions and other Democrat Party supporters who benefit from higher tax rates, the public sector unions grow in power, arrogance, and stupidity.

    As the private sector suffers from unemployment, underemployment, falling wages, vanishing 401Ks, and increasing food and energy prices, public union members righteously demand to keep the status quo, that is, to retain the system that has for 50 years given them a superiority and immunity from competitive bargaining for the nations resources.

  16. I have no issue with the concept of public sector unions nor do I blame them (directly) for the current mess. The blame lies first with the various local/state/federal elected officials who agreed to the contracts in the first place and second with the general population who by the ballot box are able to remove politicians who grant these contracts (and the regular renewals, etc) and have failed to do so over many decades.

  17. I live in Philadelphia – a “union town” – and I can say unions are no better than the Mafia. Example: the Comcast building was designed to use no water for the urinals (“green plumbing” – yechh). But this meant a whole lotta plumbing would not be needed, which upset the local pipefitters, since they would not be needed. So the Comcast building was constructed with a full set of operational – but unneeded and unused – plumbing, just to keep the union slugs employed. Another example: at the convention center, some union thugs beat up clients who dare plug in their equipment themselves. On and and – these people are nothing more than legalized enforcers.

    1. wow, sure sounds “green” to me…

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