I'm growing more and more frustrated by the stupidity of the current conflict between trades unions and several State governments. It seems to me that both sides are adopting intransigent positions, refusing to look reality in the face.
Wisconsin is the bellwether state in this matter. I don't think the unions there have a leg to stand on, quite frankly. The present Republican majority and the new Governor actively campaigned - and were elected - on a promise to rein in union benefits and contracts, and prevent the unions from dictating terms to the State in future. They're doing precisely what they were elected to do. If the unions don't like it, they should complain to the people of Wisconsin, who voted for the program currently being implemented. I don't think the people are going to be very receptive to the unions, especially not the teachers' unions - not after today's news.
In the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests administered by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009 - the latest year available - only 32 percent of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned a 'proficient' rating while another 2 percent earned an 'advanced' rating. The other 66 percent of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned ratings below 'proficient', including 44 percent who earned a rating of 'basic' and 22 percent who earned a rating of 'below basic'.
The test also showed that the reading abilities of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders had not improved at all between 1998 and 2009 despite a significant inflation-adjusted increase in the amount of money Wisconsin public schools spent per pupil each year.
In 1998, according to the U.S. Department of Education, Wisconsin public school eighth graders scored an average of 266 out of 500 on the NAEP reading test. In 2009, Wisconsin public school eighth graders once again scored an average of 266 out of 500 on the NAEP reading test. Meanwhile, Wisconsin public schools increased their per pupil expenditures from $4,956 per pupil in 1998 to 10,791 per pupil in 2008. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator the $4,956 Wisconsin spent per pupil in 1998 dollars equaled $6,546 in 2008 dollars. That means that from 1998 to 2008, Wisconsin public schools increased their per pupil spending by $4,245 in real terms yet did not add a single point to the reading scores of their eighth graders and still could lift only one-third of their eighth graders to at least a 'proficient' level in reading.
The $10,791 that Wisconsin spent per pupil in its public elementary and secondary schools in fiscal year 2008 was more than any other state in the Midwest.
There's more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.
That increase in spending was directed almost exclusively to the salaries and benefits of teachers, obtained for them by hard-line union bargaining . . . yet there's been no increase in the quality of education in the state. If that's the case, why are they paying their teachers more money? I'm sure many of the voters in Wisconsin would love to hear the unions' answer to that question.
However, I'm not happy that the GOP in Wisconsin appears to be using the present crisis to try to include measures that I regard as undemocratic and fatally flawed. For example, via Earthbound Misfit and Gin And Tacos, we learn that the proposed legislation includes profoundly flawed clauses such as this:
16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state-owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).
What the hell? How can it possibly be in the people's interest to authorize a department of state government to sell major public assets without any oversight, and give it the authority to determine for itself that the sale is 'in the best interest of the state'? That could effectively let them sell the assets for a bargain price to a political ally of the GOP, and get away with it, legally speaking. Sorry - that doesn't pass the 'smell test'. If I wouldn't want my political opponents passing such a law, why should it be any more acceptable for 'my' side to pass it?
The situation in states other than Wisconsin isn't so clear-cut. I agree with the governor of Indiana that present moves by the Republican-controlled legislature to rein in union rights there are not necessarily appropriate. Please note, I don't disagree with the principle, but the voters haven't had a chance to approve it yet. The Indy Star points out:
Today’s fight was triggered by Republicans pushing a bill that would bar unions and companies from negotiating a contract that requires non-union members to kick-in fees for representation. It’s become the latest in what is becoming a national fight over Republican attempts to eliminate or limit collective bargaining.
Gov. Mitch Daniels had warned his party late last year against pursuing so-called 'right to work' legislation. While he agreed with it philosophically, he said it was a big issue that needed a state-wide debate and noted no Republican had run on this in the November election.
Again, more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.
I agree with Governor Daniels. If any party wants to introduce such far-reaching legislation, let it be because they have a mandate to do so from the voters. Many of us bitched and moaned because Obamacare was passed despite massive voter opposition, and without any mandate for it. If that was unacceptable to us, we shouldn't try to ramrod 'our' legislation through on the same basis. Let the people approve it by electing those they know will pass it - or by electing others, if they disapprove.
Trouble is, the local issues are being subsumed in national causes. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
Republican and Democratic leaders and strategists appear to be relishing the broadening fight over labor unions, feeling it is energizing their core supporters and clarifying key differences between the two parties.
Democrats claim the fight has injected fresh energy into the ranks of labor unions, which are a major supplier of campaign money and volunteers for Democratic candidates. Republicans say the showdowns show they are the ones willing to make tough decisions to cut government spending and take on entrenched powers.
The various clashes over union benefits and clout hold implications for the 2012 elections as they spread to Indiana, Ohio and other presidential swing states.
Many of the potential GOP presidential candidates, including Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty and Alaska's Sarah Palin, have backed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and criticized President Barack Obama for taking the side of the public-sector unions.
The AFL-CIO has seized on the Wisconsin protests to energize labor activism across the country. Union organizers say they are planning rallies and protests in dozens of state capitals this week as they scramble to tap into a surge of anger over the Wisconsin bill.
Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the nation's largest public-sector union, said the moves in various state capitals to target state employees were an explicit effort to undermine a key source of Democratic funds.
"They know how much we spent in the last campaign," he said. "They're going to try and shoot us down."
. . .
Officials from both parties agreed the Wisconsin fight was freighted with consequence. But some also acknowledge that it was unclear so far which side the public would back.
. . .
The national stakes for both political parties in Wisconsin itself are particularly high. Mr. Obama won the state by a wide margin in 2008, as every successful Democratic presidential candidate has since John F. Kennedy.
But Wisconsin turned sharply to the right in last year's election. If the current budget battle redounds to the Republican's favor, that could weaken Mr. Obama's odds in the state next year, and even his chances for re-election.
More at the link.
I think that fiscal conservatism and financial common sense are what the voters of America want right now. I hope those holding elected office will deliver what they want. If they would refrain from scoring cheap points off one another in the process, that would be great . . . but that's probably a futile hope.