Wisconsin Union Backers Defame Virginia, Flunk Basic Math, Spread False Factoids

Wisconsin Union Backers Defame Virginia, Flunk Basic Math, Spread False Factoids

February 24, 2011
Originally published in The Washington Examiner Opinion Zone

Virginia schools have better-than-average standardized test scores.  Virginia obviously doesn't rank an abysmal 44th in the nation on SATs and ACTs, as supporters of Wisconsin government-employee unions keep falsely claiming. They’re making that claim up because Virginia bans collective bargaining by government employees, and Wisconsin, which currently mandates collective bargaining in government agencies, is considering proposals by its newly-elected conservative governor to bar such bargaining in areas like pensions, which frequently result in government costs being passed on to future generations.

In 2009, Virginia ranked in the middle of states on the ACT and SAT, and in 2010, it actually outranked Wisconsin on the ACT (12th vs. 17th in "average composite score").   The reason it doesn’t rank higher on the SAT is because so many of its students take the test – including marginal students who wouldn’t even take them in another state.  (Wisconsin boasts a higher average SAT score than Virginia partly because only "four percent" of Wisconsin students took the SAT, compared to "67 percent" in Virginia.  Virginia’s lower average SAT score is a function of a larger pool, not dumb students or bad schools, as PolitiFact pointed out in debunking the false claim that Virginia ranks 44th .)

As the Washington Post once noted, “Virginia public schools are among the top five state school systems in the nation, according to an annual report released yesterday by one of the country's most respected education organizations.”

The flacks for the Wisconsin government-employee unions are also claiming that Wisconsin’s budget crisis was manufactured and that it would be running a surplus if it were not for tax cuts backed by the state’s new governor. 

This claim was previously debunked by the liberal-leaning Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, as I noted earlier this week.  But it also defies basic math, since those tax cuts were so tiny.   As National Review’s Kevin Williamson notes, “How exactly do $137 million in tax cuts cause a $3.6 billion deficit in two years? I am dying to know. . . getting a $3.6 billion deficit out of a $137 million tax cut is a pretty good rabbit-outta-the-hat trick.”  Moreover, the cuts haven't even gone into effect yet.

Virginia is fiscally much better run than Wisconsin, which makes it odd that supporters of Wisconsin government-employee unions are so hell-bent on comparing Virginia and Wisconsin.  Former Congressional economist Chris Edwards notes that Wisconsin residents “may be interested in comparing their government’s fiscal and union policies with policies in the Old Dominion.”

Wisconsin

  • Collective bargaining (monopoly unionism) in place for government workers, with about 52 percent of state/local workers in unions (Source: Table 1 here)
  • State debt as a share of income: 4.6% (Source: Moody’s)
  • State unfunded pension obligations as a share of GDP: 32% (Source: Andrew Biggs)
  • Score on quality of state government management: B- (Source: Pew Center)  
  • Score on Pew’s subcategory for “people” management: B-

Virginia

  • Collective bargaining in state and local government banned by a 1993 statute signed into law by Democratic Governor Douglas Wilder
  • State debt as a share of income: 2.1%
  • State unfunded pension obligations as a share of GDP: 17%
  • Score on quality of state government management: A-
  • Score on Pew’s subcategory for “people” management: A"

Wisconsin is one of the most heavily-taxed states in the country, and its government employees are paid much better than the state’s taxpayers.   Even if the Wisconsin governor’s proposed restrictions on collective bargaining and restrictions on employee benefits become law, Wisconsin government employees will still be paid better than in most states, and have more collective bargaining rights than in many states – like in the states of Virginia, Georgia, Texas, and the Carolinas, where collective bargaining by government employees is banned.  They will also have less work to do than employees in other Midwestern states like Indiana, which have far fewer public employees per capita.

It’s also not true that “tea baggers” or “right-wing Republicans” are responsible for Virginia’s ban on collective bargaining in government agencies. As Edwards notes, Virginia’s ban is contained in a 1993 law signed into law by a Democratic governor (with bipartisan support).