Successful political activity often spreads from one geographic area to another. That has certainly been true among financially weak countries in Europe. It is now happening among nations in the Middle East where citizens are calling for democracy.
A much less important trend by comparison to these others may spread to US state governments. The decision by the Republican governor in Wisconsin, Scott Walker, to break state public worker unions may be a solution to part of the spending problems which have helped create a budget deficit in the state. Walker has gone farther. He means to kill the ability of public employees to negotiate through collective bargaining. That would allow him nearly complete power to set compensation for some state workers.
Walker’s plans, if they are successful, will be a blue print for other troubled states from New York to California. Governors are being pressed, along with legislatures in some states, to cut budgets sharply. The head of Moody’s recently said that concerns about local and state debt could cause downgrades and make money more difficult to raise. Investors want to see that kind of austerity that has been initiated in Europe. US public unions have been able to set high pension plans and generous benefits in many states. Now those states have to keep benefits in place and fund underfunded pensions. It looks unlikely that states will gain the right to go bankrupt. Cost cuts are the only means to balanced budgets sometimes combined with higher taxes.
Solutions will not be based on cookie cutter solutions but they will resemble one another. What is politically acceptable in Wisconsin will become politically acceptable in elsewhere especially if Governor Walker moves close to balancing the state’s budget. Unions in several states have already taken to the streets in anticipation of challenges to their ability to negotiate compensation.
The battle between the Walker and public unions in Wisconsin is not just a local issue of which gets the upper hand. It is a precedent for a movement which could reach many states as they struggle to stay above water.
Douglas A. McIntyre