Tarkenton: Wisconsin Brings Financial Sanity to Public Unions

Wednesday, 06 Jun 2012 04:49 PM

By Fran Tarkenton

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Fran Tarkenton's Perspective: The results of the Wisconsin recall vote are an important milestone in the quest to restore sanity to our union situation.

We have got to find the will as a country to do the right thing and put our house in order. And it wasn’t just in Wisconsin; voters in San Diego and San Jose made the tough decisions they needed to make, too.

walker-and-family.jpg
Gov. Walker is congratulated by his wife Tonette and sons Alex and Matt at an election-night rally.
(Getty Images)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker won yesterday’s vote against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by 7 points, 53 to 46. While Walker was considered a slight favorite going into yesterday’s voting, the margin is definitely a surprise.

Political experts and news agencies expected a close race, and those expectations were reflected in the headlines used to describe the win: Walker “survived” the vote, according to The Washington Post. He “narrowly” defeated his opponent, according to CNN, and The Hill.

Let’s not kid ourselves; a 7-point victory is not narrow, nor does it indicate mere survival.

That is the same margin of victory Barack Obama enjoyed in what was hailed as a landslide win over John McCain in 2008 (also 53-46). The 7-point margin is even larger than Walker’s initial victory over Barrett in 2010, when he won by less than 6 percent.

And he achieved that victory despite massive turnout, which was expected to favor the challenger’s supporters, allegedly infuriated by Walker’s tough stance toward public unions.

But instead, the more people turned out to vote, the more they voted for Walker. I have no doubt that Walker’s opponents are furious; but I believe that most people, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, understand that making the choices necessary to restore financial sanity are difficult at best. When anyone makes decisions to move toward fiscal responsibility and job growth, it’s going to inspire very vocal, intense opposition.

The governor stepped into a minefield, facing a massive $3.6 billion deficit, and was able to balance the budget through his reforms. Doing that wasn’t easy, but Tuesday’s vote vindicated his vision.

And in California, San Diego and San Jose voters were even more resounding: both cities passed referendums cutting public employee pensions to bring municipal budgets back to reality. The measure passed in San Diego with 69 percent, and with 71 percent in San Jose.

The simple truth is that we have outspent our means, and a large part of that is the senselessness of public unions. It’s not just a Republican vs. Democrat issue, either. Franklin Roosevelt opposed the very idea of public unions, and Jimmy Carter’s Civil Service Reform Act was far tougher than even what Walker did in Wisconsin last year.

Whereas private unions are negotiating with employers — two real parties — public unions are often negotiating with the same politicians they help put into office — the same people are on both sides of the table, with predictable results.

There are more workers now in public unions than in private unions, and that’s a disaster, because public unions don’t serve their members or society as a whole.

The $500 to $1,000 in dues each government worker pays goes toward the political fiefdom of the union leaders — right out of the paychecks of the very workers the unions claim to protect. And in exchange, they extensively lobby politicians and political campaigns for unsustainable deals that promise more and more money to workers in benefits, pensions, early retirements, and more — money that everyone knows doesn’t exist.

And public employees know it, as evidenced by the flight of workers from Wisconsin’s public unions. One of Walker’s reforms eliminated automatic dues collection — and as a result membership has plummeted. In one extreme example, membership in the state’s second-largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is now less than half of what it was in March 2011.

When given the choice, public employees are fleeing the sinking ship in droves, looking for an alternative that works for both them as individuals and for society as a whole.

City by city, as in San Diego and San Jose, and state by state, as in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and others, we need to fix our fiscal house. We need to create an environment that encourages small business entrepreneurs and generates growth.

From the bottom on up, we need to try new things and find models that really do work — and quickly discard those that are destructive and counterproductive.

When we do that, the system will work for the public employees, too. They win if we win.

The alternative is to join the state of California, which despite all the natural advantages imaginable, is on the road to oblivion. Because if policies mean that the private sector, small businesses, and taxpayers are all losers, then in the long run the public sector will fall apart, too.

The alternative is unacceptable. Wisconsin voters know it, and they rewarded political courage and resolve in yesterday’s vote.

Fran Tarkenton is the Founder and CEO of OneMoreCustomer.com, a web resource for Small Business Advocacy and Education. After his Hall of Fame football career, Fran had a successful career in television and then turned to business. He has founded and built more than 20 successful companies and now spends his time coaching aspiring entrepreneurs.

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