WISCONSIN GOVERNMENT: Drowning soon in a bathtub near you | WisCommunity

WISCONSIN GOVERNMENT: Drowning soon in a bathtub near you

It's official. Gov. Walker has adopted the Grover Norquist theory of public policy, namely: Make government small enough to drown in a bathtub.  In a message to state employees, the gov put his spin on a series of sweeping changes. They are part of his proposed legislation that will save a few bucks while denuding public employee unions and robbing state workers of a significant portion of their livelihoods. It is entirely possible that, if this bill passes, our state will never again see a collective bargaining agreement between the State of Wisconsin and its public employees.   The bill contains a lot of really Old Testament-type policy changes, but the single most egregious proposal from the gov involves collective bargaining. He describes the changes, in a message emailed today to employees, as follows:
[T]he bill also makes various changes to limit collective bargaining to the base pay rate. Total increases cannot exceed the Consumer Price Index (CPI) unless approved by a referendum.  Contracts will be limited to one year and wages will be frozen until the new contract is settled.  Collective bargaining units will have to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union.  Employers will be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units will not be required to pay dues.  These changes take effect upon the expiration of existing contracts.  Local police and fire employees and State Patrol Troopers and Inspectors are exempted from these changes.
Catch that? Public employee unions in Wisconsin will only be able to bargain wage increases, not benefits or grievance procedures or other stuff now on the table. Worse, those salary increases will be limited to the rate of inflation -- unless the public agrees to more in a referendum vote. Which means, effectively, that public employees in Wisconsin would be very unlikely going forward to get any wage hike greater than inflation, because voters in the main simply are never going to approve such a referendum, which would take months to arrange, anyway. Which in turn means wages will at best remain flat going forward, in terms of buying power. That's quite the incentive plan -- the wrong kind of incentive. 
What young worker would prefer coming to work for the state after graduation or early in his or her career, knowing in advance that their wage structure, and wages, will be forever capped in so severe a manner? To swipe a line from conservative activist Grover Norquist, if you want to make government small enough to drown in a bathtub, this make for an excellent start. It will, if enacted by the GOP-controlled Ledge, mean that government will find it harder and harder to attract talent, especially in the technical and professional categories.  That in turn means government will end up doing a crummier job protecting the rights and health and safety of its citizens. It also probably means a lot more outsourcing of the public's work to expensive private contractors -- who happen to be big contributors to the governor and his party. A recipe, in short, for our very own version of New York's famously corrupt Tammany Hall government -- a government that helped build the case for carefully crafted civil service rules.  There's a lot more in the governor's message that's just as draconian, like chopping public worker pension contributions (which is part of public employee compensation, meaning it amounts to a further salary cut), raising health care premiums and worse. Nevertheless, the governor went on to praise state government workers for their hard work, and tacitly (because he's aking them in effect to do just as much work for less money) called on them to work harder:
In the days ahead, some may attempt to misrepresent these reform measures, spreading inaccurate or misleading information ... . Last week in my State of the State Address, I shared my belief that government employees are among some of the most honest, hard working, dedicated, professional workers in this state.  I sincerely believe that.   We all recognize that these are historic times that require us to rethink how government operates.  I ask that we continue to work together to do what is necessary to bring the state’s spending in line with our taxpayers’ ability to pay.   Wisconsin’s state employees are second to none in our nation.  Our citizens expect great service, and you have delivered.  I know you will continue to deliver top-notch programs for Wisconsin’s taxpayers.  Thank you again for your service to our state.
Thank you, and, oh, by the way, we're screwing you over, big time, for our own greater glory and for the principle of small government that doesn't interfere with big business. Now get to work delivering top-notch programs. Just as soon as you sign these forms freezing your pay for another year.


February 11, 2011 - 12:35pm