By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute
This last weekend I was at BlogCon 2012 in Charlotte, NC. Roughly 200 conservative bloggers and online journalists from around the country gathered to share ideas and techniques.
I'll confess to an excessive amount of socializing, too. While our friends on the left are well-practiced in "occupying" parks in their tents, we were quite successful in our Occupy Hotel Bar movement.
But whether it was in the learning sessions, the hotel bar, or even the nearby restaurants, I was never far from a discussion of Wisconsin's recalls. Everyone wanted to meet the writers from Wisconsin, and not just because I am so good looking.
A couple from Oregon asked me about the recalls because Governor Scott Walker's reforms made them aware of how much the public employee unions were in control of their state. They said it was "corrupt" how a union could contribute so much money to elect the public officials who would then negotiate with the same union on wages and benefits. They're hoping that Wisconsin sets the example for the rest of the country and breaks the cycle.
Bloggers from Ohio were concerned that the unions would return to their state empowered by victories in Wisconsin to wreak more havoc across their state. Last fall, the public employee unions were successful in rolling back reforms in Ohio through a referendum.
A writer from Indiana told me she was praying for the people of Wisconsin. Others expressed concern for Lt Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, wanting to make sure people in Wisconsin were fighting for her, too.
Be they from places between California to North Carolina, everyone I spoke with had an opinion about Governor Scott Walker's Act 10 reforms. When the political left chants, "the whole world is watching," they're right. The whole world is watching to see if Walker's Act 10 reforms are working, and if they'll be overturned in the recall process.
That's why I was surprised when I came back to Wisconsin to hear Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett call news of the latest budget savings totals of Act 10, "a distraction."
In case you missed it, Walker announced this week that Act 10 had saved state and local governments $1 billion so far. Barrett said the savings distracted from the governor's record and the Democratic Party, while claiming the numbers were inflated, also claimed the budget savings were an attempt to distract from the governor's record.
A distraction from the record? I thought the whole idea of the recall movement was to repeal Act 10. Isn't Act 10, the reforms of the public employee unions' abilities to negotiate for benefits and workplace rules, the whole reason the teachers unions shut down schools last year to march on Madison? Isn't the collective bargaining reform law the reason union leaders pressured Kathleen Falk to promise to veto any state budget that does not include repeal of the law if she is elected governor? Isn't the collective bargaining law the reason why Republican legislators have been stalked and harassed in Madison?
I am pretty sure Act 10 was the reason I was hugged by a guy dressed head-to-toe in fuzzy animals while covering the demonstrations in Madison last year.
You want to talk about distractions? This week Barrett received the endorsement of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA) despite Barrett's letter to state legislative leaders last year demanding that Act 10 also include police and firefighters. Walker specifically excluded those two categories of public employees because of concerns for public safety, but the union is less concerned in protecting its membership than it is in recalling Walker. Making the endorsement even more unseemly is the number of police officers in Milwaukee who have been critical of the mayor's response to the radio system failures, something they consider a direct threat to their safety. Obviously the recall has become a distraction for the WPPA from its mission of serving its membership.
Business leaders have been distracted by the recall, too. Rich Kirchen reported recently for the Business Journal that business leaders are delaying hiring decisions until after the June 5th recall election.
Everybody I talk to -- it's top of mind," Dave Vetta, president of First Business Bank-Milwaukee in Brookfield told Kirchen. "It's something that's sucking up energy."
This may help explain why the preliminary employment numbers for March were not as good as for January and February, or why the state's employment record has been like a roller coaster since the recall wars began.
Still, the state is up 15,600 private sector jobs this year and unemployment is down to 6.8%, the lowest level since 2008. According to a Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce survey released earlier this year, 94% of Wisconsin CEOs say Wisconsin is headed in the right direction and 44% plan on hiring this year. Good trends that bode well for the future.
"The regulatory climate is fairer, the legal climate is more predictable, property taxes are down slightly," Bill Smith, head of the National Federation of Independent Business in Wisconsin told the Business Journal. "Those are positive signals to send to Main Street."
But, now, back to Act 10The $1 billion in savings is a huge number and could serve as a distraction from other good news. It may be a distraction from how Act 10 has resulted in fewer teacher layoffs for much of the state. The three largest school districts experiencing layoffs were all districts that signed long-term union contracts rather than take advantage of the savings from Act 10. This includes Milwaukee Public Schools, the largest district in the state, whose members recently rejected another proposal to cut employee costs in exchange for avoiding layoffs.
Perhaps the reported $1 billion in savings from Act 10 is a distraction from how Barrett himself used the Act 10 reforms to fix his city's budget. Act 10 produced a net savings for his city of $11 million. It would have saved $8.3 million more if not for an opinion from the city attorney that the pension savings from Act 10 did not apply in Milwaukee.
Or perhaps the issue of Act 10 is a distraction from how neither Barrett nor Falk have announced how much they will have to raise taxes if Act 10 is repealed. We'll start with $1 billion, and that number grows every day.
The rest of the country sees and understands that the real issue in Wisconsin is whether the Act 10 reform will survive. Apparently Barrett and the Democratic Party believe that issue is just "a distraction."
Does Milwaukee's mayor really believe Wisconsin is spending millions and millions of tax dollars on mid-term recall elections that have nothing to do with Walker's collective bargaining reforms?
Is this whole recall war that has divided the state really just about Barrett and the Democrats wanting a "do-over" on the 2010 elections?
They say so.
Now, please, don't distract them with the facts.