Another Feather in Gov. Walker's Cap

Another Feather in Gov. Walker's Cap

Good economic news continues to flow from Wisconsin where Gov. Scott Walker's reforms are taking hold. The Wall Street Journal notes that by standing up to the union bosses, Walker was able to reduce the tax burden on home owners in Badger country: The public employee unions and other liberals are confident that Wisconsin voters will turn out Governor Scott Walker in a recall election later this year, but not so fast. That may turn out to be as wrong as some of their other predictions as Badger State taxpayers start to see tangible benefits from Mr. Walker's reforms—such as the first decline in statewide property taxes in a dozen years. On Monday Mr. Walker's office released new data that show the property tax bill for the median home fell by 0.4% in 2011, as reported by Wisconsin's municipalities. Property taxes, which are the state's largest revenue source and mainly fund K-12 schools, have risen every year since 1998—by 43% overall. The state budget office estimates that the typical homeowner's bill would be some $700 higher without Mr. Walker's collective-bargaining overhaul and budget cuts. The median home value did fall in 2011, by about 2.3%, which no doubt influenced the slight downward trend. But then values also fell in 2009 and 2010, by similar amounts, and the state's take from the average taxpayer still climbed by 2.1% and 1.5%, respectively. In absolute terms homeowners won't see large dollar benefits year over year, but any hold-the-line tax respite is both rare and welcome in this age of ever-expanding government.

The Government Workers Union Albatross

The Government Workers Union Albatross

Phillip K. Howard examines how union bosses for government workers are fleecing the taxpayers: The indictment of seven Long Island Rail Road workers for disability fraud last week cast a spotlight on a troubled government agency. Until recently, over 90% of LIRR workers retired with a disability—even those who worked desk jobs—adding about $36,000 to their annual pensions. The cost to New York taxpayers over the past decade was $300 million. As one investigator put it, fraud of this kind "became a culture of sorts among the LIRR workers, who took to gathering in doctor's waiting rooms bragging to each [other] about their disabilities while simultaneously talking about their golf game." How could almost every employee think fraud was the right thing to do? The LIRR disability epidemic is hardly unique—82% of senior California state troopers are "disabled" in their last year before retirement. Pension abuses are so common—for example, "spiking" pensions with excess overtime in the last year of employment—that they're taken for granted. Governors in Wisconsin and Ohio this year have led well-publicized showdowns with public unions. Union leaders argue they are "decimat[ing] the collective bargaining rights of public employees." What are these so-called "rights"? The dispute has focused on rich benefit packages that are drowning public budgets. Far more important is the lack of productivity. "I've never seen anyone terminated for incompetence," observed a long-time human relations official in New York City. In Cincinnati, police personnel records must be expunged every few years—making periodic misconduct essentially unaccountable. Over the past decade, Los Angeles succeeded in firing five teachers (out of 33,000), at a cost of $3.5 million. Collective-bargaining rights have made government virtually unmanageable. Promotions, reassignments and layoffs are dictated by rigid rules, without any opportunity for managerial judgment. In 2010, shortly after receiving an award as best first-year teacher in Wisconsin, Megan Sampson had to be let go under "last in, first out" provisions of the union contract. Even what task someone should do on a given day is subject to detailed rules. Last year, when a virus disabled two computers in a shared federal office in Washington, D.C., the IT technician fixed one but said he was unable to fix the other because it wasn't listed on his form. Making things work better is an affront to union prerogatives. The refuse-collection union in Toledo sued when the city proposed consolidating garbage collection with the surrounding county. (Toledo ended up making a cash settlement.) In Wisconsin, when budget cuts eliminated funding to mow the grass along the roads, the union sued to stop the county executive from giving the job to inmates.

Congress Nearly Federalized the Mess in Madison

Congress Nearly Federalized the Mess in Madison

(Source: March 2011 NRTWC Newsletter) Time For Politicians in Both Parties to Own Up to Their Mistakes In late February, many concerned Americans in other states were paying close attention to the fierce, and still unresolved, battle over public-sector union monopoly bargaining in Wisconsin. Many observing the Madison showdown from their homes inwere undoubtedly amazed by what they saw. These five states, like roughly a dozen others, have no statutes on the books empowering government union officials to act as state and local public employees' monopoly-bargaining agents. When elected officials in such states make a judgment that a reform in public-employee compensation packages and work rules is necessary and can be prudently implemented to give taxpayers a better return on their money, they have the power to proceed. It is then up to the voting public to judge whether the reform was a good idea or not. In Wisconsin, however, like in other states which statutorily mandate union monopoly bargaining over public employee pay, benefits, and working conditions, elected officials from the governor on down have far less control over the roughly 50% of public expenditures that go into employee compensation. In the Badger State, half of state and local government employees are unionized. Elected officials and their appointees cannot make any significant changes in the way these employees are compensated or in how they are instructed to do their jobs without government union bosses' approval. Today, millions of Americans whose state and local governments operate free from Big Labor constraints appreciate, after watching the bitter struggle in Wisconsin unfold, better than ever before the importance of keeping union monopolists out of the government workplace. Only Intense Right to Work Lobbying Blocked Monopoly-Bargaining Bill What most freedom-loving Virginians, North Carolinians and Texans probably don't realize is that, just last year, the U.S. Congress came within a hair of taking away their prerogative to decide how their state and local government workplaces are run. At the outset of the 2009-2010 Congress, the votes were there to pass the so-called "Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act" in both the House and the Senate. Furthermore, President Obama was publicly vowing to sign this legislation as soon as it reached his desk. This measure, more accurately labeled the "Police/Fire Monopoly-Bargaining Bill," would have foisted Wisconsin-style labor relations on state and local public-safety departments in all 50 states.

President Obama Eggs on Big Labor Lawbreakers

President Obama Eggs on Big Labor Lawbreakers

(Source: March 2011 NRTWC Newsletter) Labels Proposed Rollback of Union Monopoly Powers As an 'Assault' As the cover story of this Right to Work Newsletter edition reports, last month Wisconsin teacher union bosses encouraged educators in Madison, Milwaukee, and other school districts to strike illegally in order to participate in protests against GOP Gov. Scott Walker's monopoly-bargaining rollback proposal. Most teachers rejected union bosses' exhortations and reported for their jobs. However, the number of teachers who heeded the siren call of union militancy was sufficient to force multiple school districts, including Milwaukee's, to cancel classes. Madison's schools were closed for a total of four days. Many of the striking union militants, convinced that they should be paid for protesting rather than carrying out their assigned duties, collected phony "sick notes" from pro-forced unionism doctors. Wisconsin taxpayers may have to furnish these outlaw teachers with up to $6 million in "sick pay" for work they were perfectly capable of performing, but chose not to. Wisconsites quoted in media reports, including some who are normally sympathetic to Big Labor, are outraged by the actions of a relatively small share of Badger State teachers (in Milwaukee, for example, just a few more than 600 out of 5,400 teachers joined in the union-instigated "sickout"). Former Union Czar Andy Stern: President's Statement 'Helped Enormously' Even as they were losing the good will of the people of Wisconsin, however, teacher union zealots and thousands of other government union radicals who joined in their wildcat strikes got a "thumbs up" from the White House. On February 17, the second day of illegal teacher strikes, President Obama took the extraordinary step of inviting a reporter and camera crew from a Milwaukee TV station to sit down with him at the White House for an interview. Mr. Obama suggested he was okay with the portions of Gov. Walker's reform package that authorize public agencies to divert a significantly higher share of employees' wages and salaries into their health care and pension plans, and thus reduce taxpayers' total compensation liabilities. At the same time, the President blasted the provision that would, for the first time in decades, restore for most Wisconsin public employees the Right to Work without being fired for refusal to pay dues or fees to an unwanted union.

Right to Work Members Win Against Long Odds

Right to Work Members Win Against Long Odds

(Source: January 2011 NRTWC Newsletter) Committee Defeats Police/Fire Monopoly-Bargaining Legislation With the long-anticipated conclusion of the 111th Congress a few weeks ago, National Right to Work Committee members and supporters achieved a major legislative victory that had seemed a near impossibility at the Congress's inception in 2009. Just before Christmas, Congress adjourned without having rubber-stamped Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) so-called "Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act" (S.3991). This was government union bosses' "top legislative priority" in the 111th Congress, as International Firefighters (IAFF/AFL-CIO) union czar Harold Schaitberger admitted mournfully after the adjournment. Seasoned Capitol Hill observers had confidently predicted the Reid legislation would pass into law before the end of 2010, and with good reason. At the outset of the 2009-2010 Congress, the votes were there to pass the bill in both chambers of Congress. Furthermore, President Obama was publicly vowing to sign it as soon as it reached his desk.