May 31, 2018

MacIver Perspective By M.D. Kittle 

In a crowded field of Democrats, it’s difficult distinguishing one liberal from the next in the race for Wisconsin governor. 

From the usual class warfare rhetoric to big government policy ideas, the 10 contenders on the left all start to sound the same.

And they all share one goal in particular, should one in their ranks defeat two-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker: Getting rid of Walker’s signature government reform law, Act 10.

Of course they campaign on the demise of Act 10 at their own political peril. The law that finally gave taxpayers a seat at the contract negotiations table may be despised by public sector unions and the politicians they’ve purchased, but Act 10 has saved billions of dollars and has earned the respect of a lot of voters.

More so, it has removed the chains of forced unionism from government employees, giving them the freedom to decide whether they want to pay dues to a labor organization that may not represent their values or political views. And Act 10 brought competition to public education, rewarding teachers for excellence over longevity, unlike the old seniority-based compensation system.

The Dem contenders, however, only see failure in one of Walker’s most successful reforms.

“I will only accept a total repeal (of Act 10),” Matt Flynn, the former state Democratic Party chairman, recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

That’s the general sentiment of Flynn’s Dem competitors in the governor’s race, although some – like state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers – acknowledge complete repeal would be a trick if Republicans maintain control of the Legislature.

It should come as little surprise that Flynn, Evers and their rivals on the left would make Act 10 repeal a key campaign pledge. Walker’s law, which shot the conservative governor onto the national political stage amid heated protests at the State Capitol, made him a target of an unprecedented recall election by Democrats and their big labor allies.

Act 10, otherwise known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill of 2011, ended the stranglehold that public sector unions had on collective bargaining. It limited contract negotiations to base wages, up to the rate of inflation. Most public employees, with the exception of some public safety workers, are required to pay at least 12.6 percent of their health care premiums and 5.8 percent of their wages to their generous state pensions.

Echoing his fellow Dem candidates for governor, Flynn insists Act 10 “has been a disaster for workers in Wisconsin.”

Perhaps when Flynn says “disaster,” he means that ending compulsory union membership and dues cost big labor a lot of money that it could no longer dump into the campaign coffers of Democrat candidates.

Maybe “disaster” in Flynn’s mind is asking public sector employees to pick up part of their generous benefits costs, like private sector workers have long done, at higher average contribution rates.

It’s certainly no disaster that public employee contributions to their state pensions have helped Wisconsin boast one of the top-rated government retirement funds in the nation, avoiding the financial woes of neighbor Illinois, where unions and politicians have buried taxpayers with $140 billion (and rising) in state pension debt.

Liberals like to talk about the income public employees have lost under Act 10. The truth is, Act 10 stanched the endless flow of unchallenged wage hikes public employee unions demanded and received under Wisconsin’s previous big labor-friendly laws.

Doing so has brought significant savings to taxpayers.

An analysis by the MacIver Institute found Wisconsin taxpayers have saved more than $5.24 billion thanks to Act 10. The savings include $3.36 billion from public employees making contributions to their benefits, and another $400 million-plus from taking common sense steps like opening employee health insurance to competitive bidding.

Act 10 brought greater flexibility into the classroom. Administrators no longer bound by rigid, labor-centric contracts are able to set schedules and courses in ways that best serve students, not union demands.

And a merit pay system based on achievement, not seniority, is rewarding quality teachers instead of punishing them. In the overheated Act 10 debate, Walker often pointed to the story of a first-year, award-winning Milwaukee Public Schools teacher who was laid off because she lacked seniority.

“Her union contract said the last hired was the first fired,” Walker said during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Walker’s Act 10 is, by so many measures, a success story. And voters know it. Marquette University Law School polls consistently have found more respondents support Act 10 than oppose it. In the latest poll, released in March, 46 percent favor keeping it, 41 percent favor a return to broader collective bargaining. Support has been as high as 50 percent, compared to the low 40s for those opposed to Act 10.

Dem candidate for governor, Mahlon Mitchell, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Act 10 “was about unchecked power, and crippling political opponents” of Walker. Mitchell, president of the state firefighters union, got it partially right.

Act 10 was about ending the unchecked power of Wisconsin’s public sector labor unions and restoring power to the state’s taxpayers. Big labor’s massive contributions to liberal, pro-union candidates bankrolled by forced union dues have definitely diminished, and, consequently, it’s outsized power to influence elections has as well.

M. D. KittleM.D. Kittle is an Investigative Reporter with the MacIver Institute. This article appears courtesy of the MacIver Institute.