State Fiscal Crisis

Scott Walker's Recall Is Not About Wisconsin


Scott Walker's fate will be sealed on Tuesday when Wisconsinites head to the polls and vote in the special recall election. Odds so far are that he'll survive. The Reason-Rupe poll last week gave him an eight-point edge over his opponent, Tom Barrett. And the current RCP average puts his lead at 6.6 points. However, regardless of whether Walker wins or loses, it's likely over for public unions in Wisconsin (unless they manage to convince the state Supreme Court in a pending lawsuit that Walker's reforms deserve to be thrown out on equality grounds because they don't apply to firefighter and police unions). The real after effects of his fate will be felt outside the Badger State.

Here's why.

Walker's collective bargaining reforms have produced fiscal benefits so palpable across Wisconsin that even if Barrett wins, he will be hard pressed to undo these reforms without running into massive taxpayer resistance. Walker has required public employees to cough up more toward their own pension and health care costs and limited union contract negotiations only to wages—putting benefits, working conditions and the kitchen sink off limits. All of this has given school districts and municipalities' new tools to deal with cut backs in state revenue sharing without massive layoffs of government employees or one-time budgetary fixes. In the past the state had plugged shortfalls by illegally raiding other funds and raising "funny money." For example, notes a report by the Heartland Institute:

…to fix deficits in the 2001–02 budget, the state securitized about $1.5 billion in tobacco litigation settlement payments scheduled to come in through 2017, in return for a lump sum payment of about $1.2 billion. In those two years, all of the tobacco settlement money went into the general fund, where it was used for general purposes and for shared state revenue payments to counties and municipalities. Sixteen years' worth of tobacco money thus vanished into the black hole of the general fund.

 But now for the first time in years, not only did the state plug its $3.6 billion biennial deficit without tax increases and such cheap shenanigans. It also restored a long-term structural balance. Speaking of taxes, under business as usual scenarios, property taxes for the average Wisconsin homeowner would have increased by $700 to balance the budget. Now, however, notes Heartland, even without socking homeowners, Wisconsin's department of revenue predicts the state will have a $154 million budget surplus by the end of the budget period in 2013 and will place half of it in the state's Rainy Day Fund.

All this means that Walker's reforms are a precious gift to taxpayers that Barrett will reject only at his political peril. Barrett understands this having himself suffered mightily from union-instigated fiscal problems as mayor of Milwaukee. That's why, through most of his primary campaign, he refused to promise to restore the collective bargaining rights of public employees if elected, one reason why Kathleen Falk and not he was the union's preferred candidate.

However, unless he restores these rights, there is no reason for public employees to pay union dues given that, among Walker's reforms, is a ban on automatic deductions from government employee pay checks. Now employees have to affirmatively instruct the state to withhold dues, something that they are increasingly opting not to do. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday:

Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—the state's second-largest public-sector union after the National Education Association, which represents teachers—fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, according to a person who has viewed Afscme's figures.

Much of that decline came from Afscme Council 24, which represents Wisconsin state workers, whose membership plunged by two-thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.

Why are state workers dropping their membership? Here's what one of them told the WSJ:

Tina Pocernich, a researcher at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, was a dues-paying union member for 15 years. But after the Walker law went into effect she told the American Federation of Teachers she wanted out.

It was a hard decision for me to make," said Ms. Pocernich, a 44-year-old mother of five, who left the union in March. "But there's nothing the union can do anymore.

All of this suggests that Walker's reforms are a fait accompli that will spell the end of Wisconsin's public unions regardless of whether he stays or goes. So why is Big Labor emptying out its deep pockets to defeat him? Because it wants to signal to other governors not to try his tricks at home. By the same token, if he survives its onslaught and lives to tell the tale, he'll signal that Big Labor is just not as formidable a foe as it used to be and his reforms will likely spread.

NEXT: The New Yorker Admires Bloomberg's 'Incorrigible Nannyism'

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  1. “the end of Wisconsin’s public unions”

    As much as I wish this to be true, this ain’t gonna happen. You may see a reduction in Unions that aren’t Police or Fire Fighters, but those two Unions aren’t going anywhere for a long time.

    1. That will prove to be Walkers big failing. He wussed out and let the cops and the fire fighters off the hook. In a way the teachers and the rest of them have a point. If public sector unions are so bad, why do cops and firefighters get them? What is so special about them.

      1. Not necessarily a big failing if he wouldn’t have been able to gather the support in the first place with those unions part of the package.

        1. He got half a loaf, which is better than nothing. But I worry about the continued treatment of cop and firefighter unions as sacred cows.

          1. I’d start showing that they are less likely to be injured in the line of duty (barring self-induced car accidents and shootings) than teachers.

            1. You’re assuming facts have anything to do with our collective fetish for cops and firefighters.

          2. Perfect, good… enemy.

      2. Let the slippery slope work for us for a change.

        Once he defeats the other pubsec unions and schools dont fail and everything continues to work, THEN do the same for cops and firefighters.

        1. This. Left wing scumbags like Mike Bloomberg know how to boil the frog slowly; there’s no reason our side can’t do the same thing.

          1. “Our side”? What side is that? Because you seem like a TEAM RED shithead to me. We’re not on “your side” either.

            1. Could be the side of the taxpayer who has to put out for all of this. But maybe I give too much credit.

          2. Personally, I’d rather see the frog gigged in the head, but you’re right of course.

      3. That will prove to be Walkers big failing.

        Agreed 100%. And yes, he had to play ball with the cops and firefighters unions, but still, it’s pretty hypocritical to leave taxpayers on the hook for their pensions. I give the odds of overturn based on the “equality” argument 50/50. Personally, I hope the state loses and taxpayers demand the police and firefighter unions suffer the same fate as their teat-sucking brethren in the teachers’ unions, et al.

        1. It won’t get overturned based on equity. That is where the cop worship works in our favor. People really do think cops are different.

          1. Abrahmson-D

            I have no idea which way Crooks will go on this. Ideology will be the decider, not Constitutionality.

            1. Wisconsin Supreme Court elections are officially nonpartisan. But Roggensack is on the conservative side, not the liberal. Crooks is a liberal. The conservatives have a solid 4-3 majority.

      4. What is so special about them.

        The main justification for unions is work place safety….you know that book called the jungle about grinding up workers into hot dogs.

        Cops and Firemen have risky life threatening jobs.

        Teachers do not.

        1. Did you know that garbage collectors have a higher injury and accidental OTJ rate than police and fireman?

          “Emergency responder jobs are very stressful,” says Dr. Chosewood. “More firefighters actually die of heart attacks on the job than they do from going into burning buildings…”

          And I’m willing to bet that this has more to do with what I observe anectodally: fire fighters are fat and out of shape.

          1. OTJ death rate

      5. Progressives are nothing if not resentful and envious, so if he locks in his reforms, he could probably get support for dicking the cops and firefighters unions from the teachers and bureaucrats and whatnot.

  2. Defeating Walker might not get the unions all of what got their undies in a bundle, but I’d bet Barrett would manage to restore some of Walker’s provisions, like those mentioned in the piece that force governments to collect union dues from paychecks. That’s what keeps the beast alive.

    1. Bingo. That one is about 99% of the reason the unions are having a stroke about this.

      The thing is, now that it has gone into effect, any attempt to reimpose the mandatory membership/dues is going to get serious pushback from the employees (a majority, I believe) who have dropped their membership/


        Public-employee unions in Wisconsin have experienced a dramatic drop in membership?by more than half for the second-biggest union?since a law championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker sharply curtailed their ability to bargain over wages and working conditions.

        Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees?the state’s second-largest public-sector union after the National Education Association, which represents teachers?fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, according to a person who has viewed Afscme’s figures. A spokesman for Afscme declined to comment.

        Much of that decline came from Afscme Council 24, which represents Wisconsin state workers, whose membership plunged by two-thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.

      2. I’m sure the employees seeing the extra money would be pissed off, but they’re a relatively small subset of the voting public, the vast majority of which isn’t too invested in whether these folks are dunned for union dues or not. It’s one small thing Barrett could do to keep the unions’ hearts beating so they could one day rise again, Jason-like, from the dead.

  3. Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College,


    1. You do something nice and name a school after Elizabeth Warren and this is the thanks you get?

      1. Don’t worry. The drones are on their way now to take her out.

        /onetrickpony (sarc)

  4. My dad was a teacher for 42 years. He was never in the union, but had to pay dues each month anyway. He is cheering Walker from his grave.

  5. Now employees have to affirmatively instruct the state to withhold dues, something that they are increasingly opting not to do.

    A reason why Walker will win – employees received a good lesson on opportunity costs.

    1. Irrefutable! Spoon control now!!

      1. Is Bloomberg aware of this, BTW?

        1. I hear he’s in the pocket of Big Spork already.

          1. Then the spoons have lost already.

  6. When MSNBC has to grudgingly admit that Walker is ahead, you know he’s REALLY ahead.

    Now where’s my salty ham tears bib? I can’t enjoy the delicacy of salty ham tears without the appropriate bib.

    1. I want to see Martin Bashir physically tear his own face off in a blind rage.

  7. Walkergate by the numbers:
    2: Convictions to date

    6: Walker aides and associates charged

    15: Felonies committed by The Walker 6

    77: Days since Scott Walker started his criminal defense fund

    91.5: Years in prison The Walker 6 could face

    1,000+: Number of emails Kelly Rindfleisch exchanged with Walker’s campaign managers while on taxpayer time

    1,380: Number of fundraising emails Kelly Rindfleisch exchanged on taxpayer time

    $62,232: Amount stolen from veterans and the families of fallen soldiers by Tim Russell and Kevin Kavanaugh

    $192,178: Stolen from Milwaukee County taxpayers by Tim Russell and Kelly Rindfleisch to run Scott Walker’s political machine

    $270,000: Amount in fines The Walker 6 could face


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