Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
The public employees, liberal activists, and union lackeys who gathered signatures for the recall of Governor Scott Walker should instead have been gathering signatures for the world's largest thank-you card. Given the fact that public employees are perhaps the biggest benefactors of Walker's Budget Repair Bill, their time and money would have been better spent trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for such a world record effort. I'm fairly certain they won't see things in this light, but they really have a lot to thank our new governor for.
Wisconsin's public employees should be able to clearly see now how they have been spared the fate of their counterparts in surrounding states, thanks to Governor Walker's courage and foresight. For example, in Detroit, where public employees unions have ruled the roost for decades, nearly 2,300 layoffs – including 400 firefighters - tops the list of actions that will keep America's poorest big city from running out of money by next April. Even socialist websites are becoming upset with the inevitable results of failing to face economic realities as Governor Walker has done in Wisconsin. The mayor's drastic plans include eliminating furlough days, a 10% across the board wage cut for all city employees, and a 10% hike in employee contributions to health care coverage and pension reforms. The city's financial crisis is so bad that the Michigan legislature is drafting a "Detroit-only" lottery in order to avoid what could be a catastrophic and unprecedented municipal bankruptcy.
The city of Flint, Michigan is now run by an "emergency manager" appointed by Governor Rick Snyder, because the city's finances are in such dire straits that the city cannot even function as a municipality. Burdened by excessive public employee greed, unsustainable pension and health care benefits, and union excesses, the only hope for the city is a new state law which allows these emergency managers to unilaterally modify or end altogether collective bargaining agreements with public sector workers.
The entire state of Michigan – where 60% of all public employees are unionized and have among the highest compensation of public employees nationally - has fared no better, thanks to public employee salaries, benefits, and pensions which have helped the state's debt balloon to a mind-boggling $125 billion (with a "b"). That's one-eighth of a trillion dollars – in one state alone! "Emergency managers" like the one sent in to clean up such messes in Flint are currently in place in Pontiac, Ecorse and Benton Harbor and the Detroit Public School System. And there will be more.
To our south, the state of Illinois has its own public employee union corruption to deal with. In Chicago, they face a double crisis – both the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and City Hall are broke – courtesy of the high cost of public employee pensions. The combined pension costs in 2011 to CPS and City Hall are approximately $650 million, a significant 5 percent of their combined 12.7 billion budgets. By 2015, the required payments to pension funds will have increased to $1.12 billion. And that doesn't include the rest of the state, which has racked up an estimated $139 billion in pension obligations, $85 billion of which it cannot pay. The Pew Center on the States has called Illinois’s pension problem the worst in the country. So guess what? There will be massive layoffs. For those spared, Illnois Senate Bill 512 proposes huge increases in public employee contributions - as high as 23% - toward their own health insurance and pensions, and in some cases, moving them into more taxpayer-reasonable 401k's like the rest of us regular folk. Compare that with the paltry 12% toward health care and 6% toward pensions that caused the union-manufactured outcry in Wisconsin.
The sob story told by government to unsuspecting taxpayers in Illinois is the same everywhere public employee unions are found. As local public pension costs soar, the school system and city hall have to divert funds from their operating budgets, and government must then ask for revenue increases (i.e., higher taxes) to allegedly afford putting police on the streets and teachers in the classroom. But it doesn't take a dropout Chicago high school senior to see that the problem isn't insufficient revenue. It's runaway public employee pensions and benefits the equivalent of which are unheard of in the private sector, but which all private sector employees have to pay for.
For decades, politicians in the state which gave us Barack Obama have used public pension systems as their private slush funds. In return, politicians provide favors and paybacks (see Barack Obama's $787 billion stimulus) for public employees unions. In return, the politicians receive labor peace, campaign contributions and mobs of labor volunteers during campaign cycles. But the despicable incest hasn't worked out too well in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois public employees now face drastic and draconian cuts, forced contributions, and huge layoffs. A new Chicago law will block public employees, who have routinely taken extended leaves of absence from their real jobs to go work for their unions, from receiving public pension benefits earned on their much higher union salaries. Sound familiar?
Public employees grazing at the public trough have earned their own benign-sounding acronym: OPEB. The initials stand for "Other Post-Employment Benefits", unfunded perks, pensions, health care, and other liabilities owed to public employees who are no longer working. According to Standard & Poors, nearly half a trillion dollars is owed by state governments to the elite class of government employees for OPEB benefits after they leave their jobs. The amounts range from North Dakota's $52 million to New Jersey's $400 billion, but the result is the same everywhere – it's unaffordable and unsustainable. And it gets worse. Published estimates of the entirety of the country's 88,000 state and local government OPEB liabilities – courtesy of decades of unchecked public employee greed – is over $1 trillion. And climbing.
Underfunded pensions, massive deficits and debt, and public employee union excess have infected virtually all states. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, even states with well-funded plans are having problems meeting their excessive obligations. The gravy train of public employee largesse will be hard to bring to a halt. President Barack Obama is firmly entrenched with the public employee unions, who as of 2012, lead all groups in campaign contributions – a staggering $88 million – all for you-know-who. "We're the big dog," boasted Larry Scanlon, the head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) recently. "But we don't like to brag." In the 2009 stimulus and other legislation, Democrats in Congress sent more than $160 billion in taxpayer dollar to states to prevent public-sector layoffs and influence their constituents. With union payoffs such as this, at the expense and under the noses of unsuspecting taxpayers, it is easy to see how things have gotten so bad.
But when states cut spending they must lay off employees. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have reduced overall wages paid to state workers by laying off workers, requiring them to take unpaid leave, freezing new hires, or similar actions. State and local governments have had to eliminate over 400,000 public jobs since August of 2008. Scott Walker was able to balance the budget in Wisconsin without layoffs, which explains the thank-you card.
In nearby Waukesha, the School District lost $5.1 million in state aid and $3.7 million in federal stimulus money, yet is maintaining class sizes while its tax levy drops $2.5 million. The school district has not laid off teachers for three years, and there is no plan to lay off teachers this year either. How is this possible? According to Waukesha School District Superintendent Todd Gray, the changes brought by Act 10 are a key to the savings they are seeing. And it seems that Democrat Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts and all of the special interest groups advocating for more state spending on education aren’t coming to Waukesha to talk about school funding any more. See how simple this was?
Of course, Labor-dominated school districts which rushed to implement new labor agreements before Act 10 went into effect last March aren't faring quite so well. It seems those leaders of education who supported Scott Walker were right all along. It was New Berlin School District Superintendent Paul Kreutzer, who joined Governor Walker on the podium last year and said, "this bill will allow us to retain our teaching positions." And it did. According to a recent MacIver Institute study, in districts that include over 319,000 of the state’s public school students there have been savings of over $162 million dollars. That comes out to $507.92 per student. Unfortunately, those districts who sought quick deals before Governor Walker could help them aren't included in this number. If this estimate were applied to all 881,886 students in the state, this would create a fiscal benefit of nearly $448 million.
The truth is that public employees in Wisconsin owe Governor Scott Walker a huge debt of gratitude – not a recall campaign. Wisconsin public employees were rescued in time and have been spared the ax-wielding massacre which is occurring in states across the country. Governor Walker balanced the state budget and eliminated a $3.6 billion deficit, without raising taxes, laying off public employees, or cutting critical services. In Wisconsin, tax levies actually decreased for the first time in years. School districts with the common sense to utilize the tools of ACT 10 were able to maintain the same educational levels in their schools or actually improve them. Wisconsin school districts which availed themselves of Governor Walker's tools to keep costs in check (i.e., those who didn't quickly cut a deal with the teachers' unions while ACT 10 was being deliberated), have been able to avoid laying off teachers and have decreased class sizes. In some cases, new teachers were actually hired. As a direct result of Governor Walker's initiatives, Wisconsin avoided the sort of financial Armageddon now facing its neighbors and saved countless public sector jobs in the process.
But the benefit to public employees and all Wisconsin taxpayers is even more dramatic than that. No longer is the WEA Trust ripping off taxpayers by being allowed to be the only over-charging health insurance game in town for public employees. The good things happening in the Badger State as a result of Walker's courage are too numerous to mention:
· The Appleton School District has saved $3.1 million a year
· In Wauwatosa, the tax levy was cut and no programs were lost
· Kaukauna went from $400,000 in the red to $1.5 million flush
· Inmates in Racine are doing work to free up county employees
· Baraboo saved $660,000 simply by dropping the WEA Trust
· Kimberly saved $821,000 simply by dropping the WEA Trust
· Manitowoc's previously-laid off workers will get their jobs back
· Pittsville taxpayers will see a 9% decrease in their school taxes
· Hudson saved nearly $1 million bidding on its health insurance
· Sheboygan's savings will make up for loss in state aid
· Edgerton saved half a million by getting rid of the WEA Trust
· Mequon-Thiensville saved nearly $50,000 on dental insurance
It would be pretty hard for those seeking to reverse the legitimate election of a sitting governor not to see how Walker's courage and trailblazing has benefitted them in the long run, rescued Wisconsin taxpayers, and saved us all the fate of the less-courageous states surrounding us. Yet, I'm sure many of them won't. It's called self-interest. On behalf of public employees everywhere who have been whipped into a blind political frenzy by public employee unions desperate not to lose their golden goose, I'd like to thank Governor Scott Walker for taking the road less travelled. There is a growing amount of traffic on this "Scott Walker highway" in other states these days. But that's only because the other highway has been shut down due to lack of funds.