Friday, March 4, 2011

The Wisconsin Labor Dispute, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Larry Stopper

It’s time to be frank about what’s happening in Wisconsin right now. The fight Governor Walker has picked with some of the public employee unions is nothing more than blaming the little guy for the big problems. The governor is trying to portray the rights of teachers and nurses to bargain as a union as the cause of the state budget shortfall. It is utterly false and designed by some very clever people to pit one group of middle class people against another.

Let’s be clear about how the governor in Wisconsin is operating. Just weeks before precipitating this crisis, the governor pushed through the legislature 117 million dollars in corporate tax breaks. Now, the current shortfall in the budget is 137 million dollars.

Let’s also not forget that this push to end collective bargaining for the teachers and other state employees does not include the firefighters union or the police since, coincidentally, they supported the governor in the recent election. It seems if you supported the governor during the election then your right to collective bargaining is not a threat to the state budget.

The real problem in this country is vastly unequal income distribution and it is only getting worse. How is it that hedge fund managers have their income taxed at a 15% rate as if it were capital gains, but the rest of us in the middle class have to pay 28% of our income? The difference is that they are able to hire lobbyists who push Congress to rewrite the tax code in their favor.

This is but one example among many that point out the inequality rampant in our tax code. Let’s face it, the super rich are happy to see the various parts of the middle class fighting over a small portion of the pie. So long as we leave their half alone.

The fact that many state governments are in bad financial shape is not fiction and must be treated seriously. It is also quite true that there are no painless remedies. We want the services we have, we just don’t want to pay for them. But do we really want to cut teachers pay or benefits? Could it really be true that the reason state budgets are busted is because public employees have too generous a health care plan? While it’s true, as a self employed business owner I am envious of the benefits public workers have, I’m just not naïve enough to think this is the reason states are in poor financial condition.

Solving state budget problems will take sacrifice, including higher taxes on all who can afford it. Let’s just not delude ourselves into thinking that the rights of folks in our schools and hospitals and courthouses to bargain collectively are the problem. They are only the problem to governors who hate unions and don’t really care to see that unions and collective bargaining have brought millions into the middle class.
--Larry Stopper is an entrepreneur and strong union supporter from Afton  


  1. Larry has it just right. Combine apathy regarding corporate power with hatred of taxes and you've got the American public tolerant of the plutocracy driving the middle class into the ground. Wisconsin's Walker is little more than a shill for the corporations... why this point is not made harder by the media is what needs to be explained. The old Bob Dylan line comes to mind: "Money doesn't talk it swears."

  2. Scott says ...
    Mr. Stopper - this was a great commentary, thank you for making the case so clearly and for pointing out the income and tax inequities which, when combined, are obscene.

    The current mindless drumbeat demonizing public employees - and in particular public employee unions - is always striking to me as someone who lives and works in a right to work state (indeed, the HOD even sought to enshrine this status in the state constitution this year). So many Virginians are just "certain" that they know it's public employees (who in Virginia have now gone several years without raises - since even before the downturn) - and public employee unions - even when there is no union (collective bargaining)!

    The current attack has nothing to do either with collective bargaining or budget crises - it is simply an opportunistic attack on government altogether. For example, the focus on teacher's unions as the sole object/target of 'school reform' is really just an attempt to destroy public education itself - redirecting a stream of public dollars into private ("Charter") pockets via vouchers...corporate welfare. We have a hard enough time finding quality educators willing to take on the work load under the current conditions for the meager current compensation we presently offer - eliminate the few benefits (pensions, job security and health care) they currently enjoy, and you'll see far worse than a 50% attrition rate in the first few years. This of course guarantees the quality of the public schools further declines - driving more and more people into private schools (charters are essentially private) - and increasing political pressure for vouchers.

    Even more broadly, by simply defunding large parts of the government - starving personnel budgets - these same special interests can guarantee the government is incapable of performing functions (often regulatory) that the government doesn't like. If you don't like a clean water regulation, but find you are well outnumbered at the ballot box, simply work to defund enforcement.

    Almost all of our serious state budget issues could be easily resolved by re-introducing a modicum of progressivity in our state income tax or other revenue raising measures, without significantly burdening our public. A gasoline tax one half the size of the increase in gasoline prices in the past two months would completely address our transportation issues in this state. Instead the self-styled "fiscal conservatives" in the Administration and House in Richmond chose to use debt - to "saddle our children with debt" as they like to say when discussing public employee wages - to pay for our new transportation projects.