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Wisconsin government controversy rises throughout UWRF campus

February 17, 2011

Campus is abuzz with talk of unruly government, protest and workers’ rights.  Madison closed its public schools Wednesday because it couldn’t replace all the teachers that called in so they could have their voices heard at the capitol.  Democracy is in play, but what for? 

Debate, negotiation, give-and-take, however you want to describe it, is extremely necessary when tackling such large issues and figures.  Peaceful protest is a great way to grow one’s voice, but before it dissolves into a tempertantrum, humor me for a moment. Think of government as a business in a strictly economic sense.  When Gov. Scott Walker was elected in November, the voting public, i.e. the investors, said they had invested enough tax money and the state would have to survive on its current rations.  Because of that, our state business faces a $3.6 billion budget deficit, which must be rectified over the next two years.  So unless we as investors want our business to go the way of Denny Hecker, something has got to give. 

Last week Wisconsin CEO, Walker, disclosed his plan to get us out of the red. Much to the dismay of his employees, the focal points of Walker’s plan call for employee concessions on retirement and health care benefits as well as temporarily freezing pay increases beyond inflationary adjustments.  Under normal circumstances these requests would incense the masses.  However, Walker went one step further and boldly proposed a substantial cut in his employee’s union power by asking for an end to collective bargaining on non-salary issues.

Much thought has been put into educators’ pay and whether it is deserving of their hard work. I agree that most teachers earn their salary and often warrant more, but pay goes far beyond take-home wages.  It’s long been understood that government employees, Wisconsin included, receive benefit packages most people in other business ventures could only dream of.  Business economics falls far from my realm of expertise, but finding another multi-billion dollar per year business with fully comped retirement and health insurance would be difficult, if not already impossible.

I understand the benefit cuts are a separate issue from what has truly infuriated the masses, an end to most collective bargaining.  Unions have done fantastic things.  They have improved job safety, wages and working conditions.  They have given the “little man” a voice against big business.  However, what many of the unionized fail to realize is that obese unions can harm the very workers they try to protect by making profitable business impossible.  The United Auto Workers demands decimated Detroit.  The National Hockey League was forced to forgo its 2004-2005 season because of a strike between the players union and the league, which was hemorrhaging money.  After gaining a salary cap concession from the players, the NHL is again making money.  Power-hungry unions can have as much of a negative impact on business as power-hungry moguls can, and government employee unions have become some of the most powerful around. 

Earlier this week, a professor of mine called a balanced state budget a “draconian idea.” I nearly left the class. To keep a business viable, its budget must be balanced, at minimum. This is what we should all be fighting for because the business of Wisconsin is no different. To the state employee: before you go on wailing about your own situation, please remember that tax is what really separates government from private business. The origin of your pay and your plight is often inversely related to the plight of the people. It’s time for the government pendulum to swing back, even if just a little.