Save Our State of Massachusetts
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Lesson of Wisconsin
Court upholds limits on benefits, rights
It wasn’t long ago that the news media were fixated on Wisconsin, where union members staged a noisy, weeks-long occupation of the statehouse to protest a collective bargaining law pushed through by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Much less attention was paid to Tuesday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that upheld Mr. Walker’s action, but that decision is far more important than the clamor this past February, because it prepares the way for Wisconsin to address its $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
And therein lies a lesson for other states, most of which are struggling with the fallout from years of profligate spending and unchecked growth in entitlement programs, all exacerbated by the recent recession.
In time, recessions fade and growth returns, but a recent Associated Press survey of states’ balance sheets shows many have not recovered as quickly or as well as had been hoped. And even if the economic shocks of 2008-2010 had never happened, states would still be facing billions of dollars in unfunded pension and health care obligations.
The Wisconsin fight was never about savaging the rights and benefits of unionized workers. It was about moving one state from an untenable position toward one in which public workers are expected to bear a more reasonable share of the costs for their own health and pension benefits.
Tuesday’s 4-3 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, which held that a lower court judge exceeded her authority in voiding the state’s action, confirms what should have been clear from the start: Gov. Walker and the Republican majority in Wisconsin were entirely within their rights to require public employees to contribute more from each paycheck. It is a welcome victory for the rule of law, but also should send a strong signal to other states that the time has come to put limits on the generosity of the public purse. —