Posted by: bkivey | 21 February 2011

Setting An Example

Every State in the Union save Vermont has a constitutional requirement to balance it’s operating budget. Unlike the Federal government, state’s cannot print money. Whatever their projected income is during the budget cycle is what they have to work with. In this respect state governments are no different than private organizations. And like many private companies, the state’s have seen revenue fall over the last several years. In the private sector those who have kept their jobs have very likely seen their wages frozen, especially at the managerial level. Benefits may have been curtailed or eliminated and hours have been cut for non-salaried employees as businesses look for ways to cut expenditures. While no-one is happy about having hours cut, benefits reduced, or salaries frozen, people understand that these are necessary measures and will accept them, however grudgingly, if they see that upper management is making a good-faith effort to keep the business afloat.

Given that tens of millions of Americans have made those sacrifices, if they haven’t lost their jobs entirely, the events in Madison, WI, and in states across the nation are all the more galling. As states struggle to balance budgets it seems that for public employees no sacrifice is too minor to go unopposed. Paying for some portion of your health care insurance and pension benefits are SOP in the private sector, and often at percentages far greater than many public employees enjoy. The teachers in Wisconsin are being asked to contribute 6% for their pension, about the national average, and 12.5% of their medical insurance, about half the national average for public employees. For a little perspective, the best 401(k) plan I’ve had matched contributions one-for-one, so that was a 50% contribution on my part, and the best health plan I’ve had required me to pay 33% of the premium.

The leadership of many public employee unions seem oblivious to the fact that there simply isn’t any money to maintain the status quo. Rather than adjusting to that reality, unions have taken the attitude that any change in benefit contribution is an attack on the membership, as if changes proposed in statehouses and legislatures are done capriciously, rather than as solutions that will allow people to keep their jobs. If the union’s ‘win’, I wonder how they’ll explain the inevitable layoffs that will follow.

Rather than use this situation as an opportunity to set an example for students about shared sacrifice and realigning expectations with fiscal reality, Wisconsin teachers are showing children that individual wants should be elevated above societal needs, no matter the cost. They aren’t doing a very good job of teaching perspective, either. I’ve heard quotes from demonstrators likening their reluctance to pay a little more for some very generous benefits to popular uprisings now taking place in the Arab world. Really? Ousting a dictatorship is equivalent to walking off your job to maintain a status quo that benefits only you? Your children are spending 30 hours a week with these people.

At least the teachers are staying in town. Displaying a spinelessness and contempt for the people of Wisconsin that beggars belief, the Democratic contingent of the Wisconsin legislature took a page from the Texas Democrat playbook and left the state rather than show up for work and allow a vote to be taken on the same legislation that has their union constituents so upset. Some of the refugee legislators have tried to spin their actions as ‘democracy in action.’ George Orwell would be proud. To their credit, the people of Wisconsin aren’t buying what the unions and Democrats are selling.

It would appear that the children in Wisconsin are learning that if shared sacrifice is called for to benefit society, the proper course of action is to abandon your commitments, place self above all, throw a fit, and pick up your toys and leave if things don’t go your way. I’d wager that a lot of the kids are more mature than the so-called adults.


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