The president would probably not have persuaded too many Wisconsinites to vote for Barrett. But in a race where turnout is vital, his failure to visit the scene of the second most important political event of the year and gin up enthusiasm for Barrett in traditional Democratic strongholds like Milwaukee, Madison, and other industrial towns in the state is a curious failure on his part and a defeat for the unions.
With turnout expected to be above 60%, observers like former Senator Russ Feingold believe that there needs to be a turnout comparable to 2008, when 69% of registered voters went to the polls. But if the turnout is closer to 2010 — 65% — when Walker beat Barret in the gubernatorial race, the contest will probably go Walker’s way.
Could an Obama tour of the state have boosted turnout to the 70% range and given Barrett his margin of victory? We’ll never know, and disappointed union leaders could be left to wonder what might have been if Walker ends up the victor.
5. The pension bomb has already defeated unions
It’s not a question of whether there will be reforms of state and local public employee pensions. It’s a question of when those reforms will happen, and if they occur in time to stave off a disaster for taxpayers.
Scott Walker tried to address one small part of this crisis by asking public employees to contribute more from their paychecks to the state’s pension fund. The way the unions reacted, one would have believed that Walker was trying to take their pensions away. The effort to require public employees to contribute the same amount to their pension fund as most private citizens is going to be duplicated nationwide once pension bombs begin exploding.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, “Nationwide, state pensions were underfunded by $600 billion in 2009. That accounts for about half of the $1.26 trillion gap in overall retirement benefits owed to public employees that year.” The article notes that “states have only set aside $31 billion to cover the health care of its retirees – just five percent of the $635 billion they already owe.”
State governors are watching the recall effort very closely. While the issue of collective bargaining reform will not doom Walker’s chances, the very fact that he was recalled in the first place as a result of Act 10 makes politicians nervous. Can governors take on unions with regard to their pension and health benefits, which are out of control and need to be reined in?
The Wall Street Journal says of Walker’s efforts:
His political offense was daring to challenge the monopoly sway that public unions have come to hold over modern state government through collective bargaining. Public unions aren’t like private unions that negotiate labor terms with a single company or workplace. Public unions have outsize influence because they can often buy the politicians who are supposed to represent taxpayers. The unions effectively sit on both sides of the bargaining table.
Thus over time they have been able to extort excessive wages, benefits and pensions, as well as sweetheart contracts like the monopoly provision of health insurance. Their focused special interest trumps the general interest of taxpayers, who are busy making a living and lack the time to focus on politics other than during elections or amid a fiscal crisis.
Fiscal crisis is just what many smaller governmental entities are in. Even at the brink of bankruptcy, public unions balk at taking the necessary medicine. How will the pension bomb be defused and ever-rising health care costs for retired public workers be successfully managed if the unions don’t cooperate?
Eventually, whether they want to or not, unions will be forced to give in. And this is the final reason why unions have already lost regardless of the outcome in Wisconsin. Their ideas are outmoded and unsuitable for a modern society with problems relating to an aging population and shrinking work force to support them. This final reason for their defeat might do them in entirely unless the unions wake up and work with state and local governments to pull back from the abyss and find reasonable common ground to save what can be saved from this fiscal nightmare.