No, Wisconsin’s Budget Deficit Wasn’t “Manufactured” by Walker and the GOP

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. Like many states, it’s facing a substantial budget deficit. But when the state’s newly elected Republican governor, Scott Walker, attempted to place reasonable limits on government-employee pay and collective bargaining, liberal commentators such as Rachel Maddow falsely claimed that the state’s budget crisis was manufactured, and that Wisconsin actually had a projected budget surplus.

This claim has now been debunked by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which endorsed Obama in 2008 and John Kerry in 2004: “Our conclusion: Maddow and the others are wrong. There is, indeed, a projected deficit that required attention, and Walker and GOP lawmakers did not create it.” Maddow blamed the state’s current deficit on business tax breaks supported by the governor, but those cuts are a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the state’s overall budget; and as the Journal-Sentinel noted, “the cuts are not even in effect yet, so they cannot be part of the current problem.”

Despite being debunked by newspapers such as the Journal-Sentinel, liberal bloggers and TV commentators continue to make this false claim that Wisconsin’s budget crisis was “manufactured” to create an excuse to destroy public-employee unions.  (Never mind that the proposals by Wisconsin’s governor would still allow far more collective bargaining in Wisconsin than is permitted in states such as Virginia.)

The dishonesty of the liberal assault on Wisconsin’s governor is mirrored by the dishonesty of striking government employees there, who have engaged in widespread fraud in calling in “sick” to shut down Wisconsin schools. By the thousand, they have procured doctors’ notes fraudulently claiming that they were sick when they were in fact perfectly healthy. In broad daylight, doctors allied with the government employee unions handed out thousands of fake sick notes. Here’s video of doctors handing out fake medical excuses at a Wisconsin union protest.

Wisconsin government employees are not being shortchanged. The average compensation for a school teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city, tops $100,000. Even the cuts proposed by Wisconsin’s governor would leave government employees with a sizable edge over their private-sector counterparts.

The governor’s proposals are modest and reasonable, not draconian. Under his proposed restrictions on collective bargaining, Wisconsin public employees would still have more freedom to bargain collectively than they do in many other states, such as in Virginia, Georgia, Texas, and the Carolinas, where collective bargaining by government employees is completely banned. The Wisconsin governor would end collective bargaining over pensions — which has been used to shift the cost of employee compensation to future generations by running up trillions in unfunded pension obligations — but allow some bargaining over salaries.

Even with budget cuts, government employees in Wisconsin would still live far better than the taxpayers who pay their salary. Wisconsin’s governor “would require many state workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward their pensions (up from 5 percent) and pay 12.6 percent of their insurance premiums — still much less than the average Wisconsinite pays for insurance through work.”

Even the pro-union President Franklin Roosevelt, who did more to expand unionization than any other president, condemned collective bargaining in the government, as opposed to the private sector. That’s because collective bargaining is often a farce when it takes place in the government, leading to giveaways rather than true bargaining. As The Washington Post’s Charles Lane notes, “‘collective bargaining’ in the public sector is too often a parody of the real thing. For years, public-employee unions have used their dues money to help elect pliant politicians — usually Democrats — who, in turn, award the unions what they want at contract time. . . it’s not collective bargaining when union representatives sit on both sides of the table.”

State government employees are generally paid better than private-sector employees with similar skills, training, and education, especially when benefits are taken into account.

Image credit: Madison Guy’s flickr photostream.