We’re closing in on the month of March, and that means budgets are being prepared by state governments as well as Washington. Still on a post-election high, Republican leaders across the nation are taking it upon themselves to cut spending and get the nation on level ground. Nowhere is this struggle more encapsulated than in Wisconsin, and Governor Scott Walker is the face of the movement. In an effort to carve a chunk out of a projected $3 billion budget shortfall, Governor Walker is proposing a strong budget that will reign in the runaway public sector unions by asking them to pay more for their pensions and health care benefits, as well as restricting their collective bargaining to wages. These proposals have been met by protests launched by unions and supported by liberal action groups like Organizing for America and MoveOn.org, some almost as large as the many Tea Party protests over the last two years. These events have triggered a nationwide battle over what should and shouldn’t be cut, and every lobbyist inside and outside the Beltway is trying to protect their special project or giveaway that might face the ax. One trend that seems to be true in all cases is that Republicans are more willing to cut spending and reduce the size of government than Democrats.
The situation is Wisconsin is currently ground zero in the battle over spending cuts. Governor Walker’s proposal to limit the power and influence of public sector unions has drawn anger from nearly every left-leaning action group in America, and caused 14 Democratic senators to flee the state rather than give the budget the up-or-down vote it deserves. This mass exodus by the Senate Democrats is shameful and cowardly, and proves that they don’t want to have a serious discussion about spending, even when the state is in fiscal disarray. When the Democrats in Washington passed the health care law last year, the Republicans could have walked out at any point during the debate, but they stayed and fought because they know that walkouts are not the way to negotiate. Also, it is expected that if the GOP did walkout, you could count on the mainstream media doing everything they could to paint them as obstructionists, if they didn’t do that enough already. When the Democrats in Wisconsin walked out, though, they were lauded as heroes by many liberal media outlets. Some even called Governor Walker an obstructionist, despite the fact that it’s his bill that he wants to get passed.
What is more, many of the protests’ leaders are making this out to be far worse than it actually is. Even without many bargaining privileges, the unions will still be able to negotiate over pay, probably the most valuable chip to have at the table. Also, they unions will still be better off than their private-sector counterparts, who don’t get the same lavish pensions and benefits. The more one reads about the facts of the debate, the more clear it becomes that the public sector unions, once praised as the champion of the working man, are now becoming more and more greedy and protective of their taxpayer benefits, even when states like Wisconsin are in fiscal distress and can’t afford to keep paying them.
Governor Walker’s proposals to limit the bargaining privileges also demonstrate his commitment to keeping his promise to cut spending. The only way to cut spending is for him and his government to have a more hands-on approach when it comes to dealing with government employees. After all, it is his government that has to write the checks and hand out the pensions, so why not have more power to determine what the rules are? Although I am an advocate for smaller, limited government, I am strongly in favor of this increase in power because it amounts to less government spending and a reduction in the influence of public unions and their taxpayer-funded giveaways. If one works in the public sector, he or she is doing so not for the pay or the benefits, but because he or she wants to work in the public sector. Teachers, police, and firefighters should all be professions filled by people who desire to be these professions, not because they want to cash in on the benefits. Ever since public sector unions started clamoring for these benefits, it seems that many employees are in it for the benefits, not for the love of the job, which is a shame because America could have the best teachers and law enforcement in the world if their ranks were filled with people who desire to be teachers or law enforcement. I understand the pay structure is not very high, but working in the public sector will always have that drawback, as it should. That is what makes public service so admirable: the people who serve do it because they want to serve the people of their community, not because they want to be wealthy. Public sector unions cheapen this line of work because it then becomes a struggle over getting benefits that private sector unions wish they could have, and people sign up for public service for the benefits. If these unions’ powers were to be restricted, it will lead to more determined employees who would gladly trade the larger wages of private sector work in favor of serving the community. Also, the quality of services would be greatly improved because the workers would gladly come in every day to a job they love, and would perform better than a person who was just there for the money.
The next scenes in this budget fight are yet to be played out. Governor Walker’s budget proposal is a welcoming sign that there are politicians that were elected in November that took their campaign promises to heart, and are determined to cut spending and restore fiscal sanity to the states and to Washington. Riding Walker’s coattails, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Ohio Governor John Kasich have taken up similar budget plans to address their states’ fiscal health, and are being met with the same protests from unions, though nowhere close to the ones in Wisconsin. Even though there is still a long and challenging road ahead, if more governors will follow Walker’s example, the era of big government could finally be over.