Life goes on
Has it really been 10 years? How did we ever survive Scott Walker’s Act 10? Democrats and progressives predicted trailer trash parks would litter the roadsides, cousins would marry, and gap-toothed moonshiners would race Sheriff Buford T. Justice on the back roads of rural Wisconsin.
One thing we do know: Rockford IL has never been the same.
Blowing one’s own horn
This very day marks the tenth anniversary of one of Blaska’s better journalistic scoops. It was on 9 February 2011 that we announced — then blogging at Isthmus — that Walker would reform/eviscerate public employee unions — two full days before Walker “dropped the bomb” to the rest of the world. Referring to the state government and teachers union presidents in “R.I.P. Wisconsin government employee unions” we wrote:
Marty Beil, time to update your resumé. John Matthews, get a hold of the Help Wanted section of your local newspaper. Soon you will be out of work. Friday is when Gov. Scott Walker lowers the boom on government employees unions. As he has promised.
Not just for state employees unions but for municipal, county, and university and K-12 school unions — the right to negotiate labor contracts all government unions in the State of Wisconsin will be outlawed eliminated.
Two days later, on Friday, February 11, we squeezed into the Governor’s ornate conference room in the Capitol. It was packed with news media and astonished Democrats. Blaska was standing next to Sen. Fred Risser and Rep. Mark Pocan, who sputtered like leaky tea pots. We wrote: “The governor’s demeanor was firm and frank. Asked why he did not negotiate the changes with the union Walker gave two reasons:”
He has nothing to offer. “The state is broke.”
Contract negotiations have averaged 15 months in recent years. “We don’t have that kind of time.”
Indeed, the state employees union could not reach agreement with Jim Doyle! A Democrat who mandated teaching labor union history in the schools! Walker that Friday said he had put the National Guard on alert. He said, very baldly, that he exempted police unions only because (in essence) he might need them if the prison correction officers rebelled, which he did not exempt.
As it happened, we were present that next Monday morning when a previously scheduled march by UW-Madison graduate students, over an unrelated issue, arrived at the Capitol and remained. Their numbers increased over the next few weeks to tens of thousands, a news media circus, and the occupation of the Capitol.
How did we ever survive?
The State Journal’s verdict on Act 10 over the weekend was entertaining and pretty even-handed.
The law offered Wisconsinites cheaper government, lower taxes and a way out of the immediate budget crisis. But those benefits came at the cost of public employees and exacerbated inequality in the state.
The State Journal damned Act 10 for being “divisive.” That it surely was. But so was civil rights. The most momentous change is always divisive.
Before Act 10, over-taxed private-sector workers were paying the government’s share of employee pensions AND the employee’s share, too. Generous retirement and health insurance plans granted few private sector workers who, to top if off, have less job security. Grateful government union bosses would then reward Democrat(ic) politicians with campaign contributions so that the largesse could continue. Rinse & repeat.
We’ve always argued that Act 10 was education reform more than a budget fix. It allowed school districts more flexibility to recruit and keep teachers since they are no longer bound to uniform compensation programs that rewarded seniority. At least, it allowed those school districts willing to work on behalf of the student. That said, the union still runs Madison’s public schools.
Blaska’s Bottom Line: Is Act 10 working? Walker himself tweets that his Democrat(ic) successor loaded his budget proposal with a Christmas wish list of liberal/progressive nostrums. But rescinding Act 10 was not one of them. (Even with a Democrat(ic) legislature, school boards and municipalities would revolt.) Tells you something.