In 2013, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took to the floor to support shutting the federal government down. At the time, Cruz thought threatening a shutdown would force the authors of a new spending bill to delay implementation of Obamacare. But hitting the snooze button on Obamacare was a fever dream; the bill would have needed the signature of a president whose name was on the health care plan.
Cruz peddled this impossibility to voters, raising expectations to a level Congress could never satisfy. In response, GOP voters selected an erratic, bombastic presidential nominee who claimed he could achieve far-fetched accomplishments simply by virtue of his personality. Yet even with a Republican House and Senate, President Donald Trump couldn’t undo Obamacare.
Last weekend, Journal Sentinel reporter Patrick Marley asked the leading Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidates whether they favored repeal of Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s signature accomplishment — the virtual elimination of collective bargaining for government employees. Every one of them pledged to overturn Walker’s “Act 10” law, which passed in 2011 amid nationally publicized protests at the Capitol and around Wisconsin.
In making this pledge, the Democrats vying to face Walker are selling primary voters a product they can’t possibly produce.
For one, overturning Act 10 would mean defeating Walker, something no Democrat has been able to achieve in three tries — even during a 2012 recall election when the state was engulfed in tumult. And Democrats would have to win control of both houses of the Legislature — not an impossible feat, but an unlikely one.
Suppose Democrats were able to overcome Republican majorities in 2018 and found themselves in full control of state government. If they wanted to repeal Act 10, they would face a public that still supports Walker’s reforms. Over the span of four polls conducted by the Marquette University Law School between 2012 and 2014, Wisconsin residents favored keeping Act 10 reforms in place in every poll; in October of 2014, respondents favored retaining Walker’s union law by a margin of ten percentage points (52% to 42%.)
And even if they went ahead with repealing the law, Democrats would have to deal with the effects of reversing the myriad proposals under Act 10’s umbrella. One of Walker’s primary initiatives was to require state and local employees to start paying towards their pension and health care benefits, which saved both levels of government money. This allowed him to reduce aids to local governments and school districts, knowing they would be able to replenish those funds by having to pay less for employee benefits.
If Democrats reinstate Wisconsin as a union utopia and teachers and local government employees once again start to collectively bargain, it will certainly increase the cost of providing services, and thus push property taxes significantly upward. That is, of course, unless the Democratic candidates want to move back to a system in which the state provides aid to local governments and school districts to subsidize these benefits. If that is the case, Democrats should be willing to provide examples of which state taxes they would raise to provide the billions of dollars it would take to restore this aid model.
In practice, it’s not even certain teachers and other government employees would move back to a system of mass unionization. Under Act 10, employees were perfectly welcome to remain in unions, and many have. But thousands of others have gotten used to not having dues automatically deducted from their paychecks and have begun to recognize they can get along fine without having to belong to a union. Even if Act 10 is reversed, union organizers may not see potential brothers and sisters lining up to re-enlist.
The Democratic candidates for governor will forge ahead, each trying to prove they are more vigilant in opposition to a law that has saved taxpayers billions of dollars and gotten the state budget back into working order. And when they can’t make good on their promise, a new candidate from the fringes will emerge, vowing only he or she can make the changes the progressive base craves.
Accordingly, Democrats would be wise to heed the lesson Republicans have learned — with unrealistic promises come unpredictable results.
Proof that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers is out of touch with the schools he supposedly supervises is his parroting the Democrats’ Act 10 position. You will not find a school district administrator — and they are all Democrats — who opposes Act 10 because Act 10 gives more budget control to administrators in the single biggest spending item of any school district budget, employee salaries and benefits.
Repealing Act 10 would result in school districts’ spending money on their employees instead of their students.