Governor Scott Walker has survived his recall election in Wisconsin in a validation of his policies on the elimination of most collective bargaining for public employees. Frederick Hess argues that it is a victory not just for Walker, but for all reform minded Governors across the country.
As MSNBC reported, “Walker’s win served as a symbolic victory for a generation of reform-minded conservatives…Conversely, the outcome in Wisconsin was a galling disappointment to Democrats and labor groups that had vowed to seek the Republican governor’s ouster over the collective bargaining law.”
Hess notes that in Wisconsin public employees get an additional 74% of salary in benefits; more than three times the rate for equivalent workers in the private sector. Milwaukee Public Schools have been paying the 6.2% employee contribution to the Wisconsin state pension since 1996. MPS also spends 39% of wages on health insurance; again more than three times the rate for equivalent private sector workers.
Hess argues that pouring so much of the money that could be used to improve education into benefits is absurd. It happens because the long term costs are largely invisible so politicians can appease union demands without upsetting the taxpayer, however the price has to be paid eventually and when the crunch comes its unpleasant for everyone:
“While politically attractive, these benefits are an awful way to spend scarce money. Retirement benefits and massively subsidized health care aren’t much use in recruiting young educators in the modern labor market (in large part, because these benefits are easy for potential hires to overlook). And these promises create huge obligations that suck dollars from schools and classrooms even as they leave future policymakers to foot the bill.”
There is a lot of criticism around for reformists who accused of being anti-teacher. Most desperately want teachers to excel, they just recognize the economic reality that hidden costs are still costs and the current costs are just too high to be sustainable. Hess doesn’t blame the teachers for being upset’ they’ve been lied to and are justified in feeling that they’ve been subject to a bait-and-switch on benefits. However, their ire would be better directed at the people who created the situation:
“If anyone deserves blame, it’s gutless, irresponsible legislators, governors, and school board members who have made untenable promises in order to win votes and keep folks happy. The point of reining in public employee collective bargaining is not to ‘punish’ teachers or other employees, but to address the pols’ innate, craven tendency to cater to passionate, highly organized interests.”
Governor Scott Walker took 52% of the vote in his November 2010 election and increased that margin slightly in his recall election win. Since the Governor’s election and the subsequent curtailing of teachers unions’ collective bargaining rights an increasing number of Wisconsin school districts have been able to trim excessive costs by moving teachers to health plans with higher deductibles. Walker’s platform of education reform also includes linking teacher evaluations to student test scores and requiring kindergarten students to take a reading test.