Friday, February 25, 2011

Exposing "The Wisconsin Lie Exposed"

Here's the nut graf, just in case you don't read the article.

Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to “contribute more” to their pension and health insurance plans. Accepting Gov. Walker’ s assertions as fact, and failing to check, creates the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not. Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin’ s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.

This is purely an argument in semantics, yet it is sweeping the left in this state. First off, no, it does not come from state workers. The taxpayers of Wisconsin fund the compensation packages of this state's employees. There is no magic monkey who is grinding an organ on State Street (insert Assemblyman Hintz joke here) to create the money that goes to this compensation for employees. It comes from taxpayers. It is on the state budget.

Second, the author goes on to talk about deferred compensation. In doing so, he makes a false correlation between compensation and wages/salary. Your compensation is the sum of your wages/salary plus benefits. These monies clearly fall under "benefits". These monies would not fall to anyone's salary/wages if they were suddenly ceased. They would disappear from their compensation packages. When my employer cut 401k matching and when they increased my share of health care, they did decrease my total compensation. State and local workers are going to face a decrease in total compensation, yes. That's THE WHOLE POINT. The state needs to pay its bills by saving money. But they are trying to reduce (not eliminate) the impact on the cash flow of these employees as a whole.

Third, I'm really beginning to think the budget repair plan didn't go far enough. Too many people are living in la-la land. Give them a 401K with no match. They can drop out completely to save money that way (also known as cutting off the nose to spite the face). Let them pay the state average insurance premiums paid in the private sector. Remove their civil service protections. Let them see what it is like out here in the real world so they can ponder whether all of this was really, really worth it.

Another Distinction: WI Unions v. Middle Eastern Protestors

If I were a protester in the Middle East, with my anger emanating from the fact that it is getting very difficult to provide staple foods to my family, I would have a difficult time finding solidarity with Wisconsin protesters who would still eat quite well, have nice houses in reasonably safe neighborhoods, who drive home in their nice cars to their cable, internet, TiVo, NetFlix, subscription to the New York Times, etc., etc., etc, and don't have to worry about their own government bombing them. I wonder if there are any of those protesters out there in the Middle East.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Clarifying Questions on Wisconsin's Budget Repair Bill and Public Unions

I'd like to take the opportunity to distill down some of the issues and questions that many in Wisconsin have about the ongoing union conflict. So without further ado:

1. Do you pay into your retirement plan?

Many of the union members protesting at the Capitol do not, or don't pay very much. Despite the fact that they are supposed to, in many of their contracts, most to all of their contribution is paid for by their employer. The state is asking that they pay 5.8% into their plan, and the state essentially matches it. If you have a 401K, you may have already elected to pay 6% or more of your gross into your plan, with little or no company match.

2. Are your retirement benefits guaranteed?

If you have a 401K, they likely are not as they depend on your investments and the market. For most of those protesting at the Capitol, they are guaranteed because they have a pension plan, a rarity outside of government these days because of their extreme cost.

3. Do you find your health care plan expensive?

Chances are, you do. The reason for this is because the cost of health plans have grown as the ability of medical science to heal you with technology and medicine has grown. Most of those protesting do not find their insurance expensive because they are are paying a very small percentage of the price of their plans. Most employers can only afford to offer insurance by increasing the percentage share with employees or going to lower quality plans, or both. Many of the teachers carrying signs on the square have very nice plans that are even more expensive than they need to be because their union requires that school districts buy the insurance plans from them at a higher than market price.

4. Do you and your coworkers get to regularly negotiate a contract with your employer?

Unless you are union, you do not. Yet the protesters in Madison claim they are being sold into slavery ... by being put into a situation similar to yours.

5. Do you have very strong protections built into the law to protect your job?

You almost certainly do not. Yet the protesters on the square do, and they will not lose them with the budget repair bill. Their civil service protections, those laws that lead people to believe that a government job is a job for life, will still be in place, and a grievance system will also be in place.

6. Has your employer ever had to cut wages/benefits across the board or have layoffs during tough times?

Many of you have. Most of those on the square have not. They have had very small sacrifices to make, such as furloughs, but in exchange for this bill, they will neither have to face a layoff nor face any more furloughs. All for modest increases in retirement and health care that don't even bring them up to what you are likely paying for the same things, in order to make their employer, the State of Wisconsin and/or their local government, solvent.

7. Have you ever been able to take 4 sick days and publicly flaunt yourself for your employers to see without facing immediate termination?

Those on the square have just done it, and they don't feel there are any consequences to their actions because their union will protect them. And they are largely correct, no matter what happens to this bill. Their job security will still be extremely strong.

8. Why are local public employees included in this?

Because local communities receive shared revenue from the state. The state will almost certainly have to reduce the level of revenue that goes back to local communities, and this will give those local communities the same ability to manage their own budget deficits that will arise.

9. Why aren't police and fire included in this?

There are plenty of compelling reasons that they should have been, but it was Governor Walker's opinion that public security not be compromised by a potential law enforcement or fire department sick out like that of the teachers. And contrary to what is being said from some quarters, this is not hand out to Walker supporters. The vast majority of police unions in Wisconsin supported the Democrat, Tom Barrett.

10. Why does this seem rushed through?

In the grand scheme, it isn't. A few years ago, Governor Doyle and the Democrat legislature pushed through a budget repair bill laden with tax increases in 24 hours. It hasn't even been a secret that Scott Walker was going to walk this path. Governor Doyle and the Democrats tried to shove through onerous public contracts during their lame duck status for that very reason. Wisconsin has a deadline for their ability to refinance debt at a cheaper rate which happens to fall at the end of this week. The bill had to happen on an efficient timetable to meet that date and cut off the possibility that layoff would be needed to bridge the budget gap for this year. Unlike the Federal government, the state cannot merely issue debt or print money to paper over gaps. It needs to meet its budget, much like a business or a household.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Will the Wisconsin Union Protests Stay Peaceful?

Let me start by saying that I certainly hope that they do. I have a very, very bad feeling about today, though. The focus today is on the pro Scott Walker rally, but attention really should be turning to the union protesters that have poured in from out of state. The pro Walker rallies have experience in peaceful rallies via their experiences with the Tea Party and other tax payer rallies. The union outsiders are the wild card, as outsiders in tense situations like this tend to be. If they mind their p's & q's, today will be peaceful. But if they came to stir the pot, today could be a scary, scary day in Madison.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Living in a Powder Keg and Giving Off Sparks

On Saturday, there will be a rally - a counter protest of sorts - to support Scott Walker's position on public employee union benefits on the capitol square in Madison. After seeing the groups that will be involved, I am not very concerned about counter-protesters, but I am concerned for them. The protesters on the square have been whipping themselves into a froth for 4 days now. They are not going to respond well to people who actually disagree with them. And to make things worse, the professional union agitators have started to move into Madison, starting today. Capitol police have already been escorting legislators to their chambers and have told them that the capitol isn't safe for them after 10 pm. It isn't going to take much effort on the part of professional union plants to focus the protesters' rage on the counter-protesters because the protesters do not respond well to contrary opinion as it is. Madison is a tinder box, and tomorrow could be a very dangerous day.

Where is Public Safety at the State Capitol

I don't advocate breaking up the protests in Madison because I think the unions are doing this all wrong and are only hurting themselves. I still do support public safety, though, and I think Chris asks an excellent question. Given the picture he has posted and reports of hallways blocked, where is the fire inspector? The state capitol building right now (and likely Friday), has to be one giant violation of fire codes, and for the safety of even people I am increasingly in disagreement with, they should be on site with Capitol police to control these crowds.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Final Note For Tonight

Any empathy that I did have for the employees of public unions at the beginning of this week is rapidly melting as their right to free speech is now potentially affecting my ability to get to my job on time.

A Stark Difference

I work within view of the capitol dome. I would love to go to the capitol square, talk with people, photograph the events, maybe even participate in counter demonstrations should any occur. I haven't, though, and I won't. Why? Because during the work day, I've been working my tail off. After I get done with that, I go directly home home to take care of, be with, and hopefully teach my kid. I can't say the same for most of the people on that square. On top of that, I've already swallowed many similar sacrifices being asked of the unions. I accepted mine because I knew that money doesn't grow on trees, and the solvency of my employer relied upon all of us either making the sacrifice, or some of us paying for it with our jobs. Given my experiences, I find the actions on the square, while within their rights, disgustingly selfish.

A Request to the Walker Administration

Governor Walker,

I heard your presser late this afternoon from the capitol. I thought you did a good job of explaining things, but I do think you need to reframe this slightly. As is, this is being framed as public employees making modest sacrifices to their benefits versus balancing the budget. That is 100% true. The problem is budgets and deficits are nebulous topics that are poorly understood by many. Instead, the assumption in any public discussion of this is that the budget will be balanced, period, and that the choice is layoffs vs. common sacrifice. Private enterprise has framing the discussion this way for years, and it is very effective because people tend to not want their greed to be the reason their friends get layed off, or for that matter, the reason they lose their own job. I know that avoiding layoffs is a top priority, but they have to be a realistic possibility for people to really understand what the stakes are. Right now, union members, teachers especially, are showing such defiant hubris precisely because they feel like they can get away with it with no repercussions because layoffs do not seem a real possibility.


A Nice Primer on the History of Public Unions

It is well worth the read right now. Bonus fact: Even union champ Franklin Roosevelt was not squarely behind the collective bargaining rights of public servants.

You Can't Keep a Good Horse Down

From the ashes, Spottedhorse has returned! I've likened Chris to a free style poet. If dry, filtered, and correct is how you take your politics, he probably isn't for you. But if you like interesting, passionate, and free flowing, you are going to enjoy or love to hate him.

Make 'Em FIBs

Do you know what be fun? Keeping Wisconsin's runaway Democrat Senators in Illinois long enough to make them legal Illinois residents.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kids for Sweet Bennies

Am I the only one noticing how hard the public employee unions are relying on kids to help protest who have never had to make wage/benefit sacrifice to keep their job while still finding a way to pay the bills? It is coming off as very exploitative to me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I Think I Understand the Twitter Attraction Now

I've avoided Twitter, and probably will continue to do so, because I just don't have the time or interest in writing at a multitude of locations. But tonight, I think I've begun to see the attraction. You see, I've been writing mostly on Facebook, and mostly non-confrontational, amusing, and family related material that I've enjoyed only sharing with my inner circles. All the while, I have calmly faced all of the political material that has overwhelmed my feed. Tonight, I went on the offensive a bit. I suspect that I will find a loaded email box tomorrow, and I would be shocked if I didn't get unfriended by at least 10 people. To a certain extent, some people follow you on Facebook because they have to. At least on Twitter, like a blog, they are following you because they want to, be it because they like what you have to say or they love to hate what you say. That feels more pure to me.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Scientology Ad = Desperate NBC

So, NBC accepted an ad from the Church of Scientology. I find this fascinating, and not because of the controversial aspects of it. Instead, I am fascinated that they took the deal because it is going to be a collection headache for them. I have a little bit of experience with the Church of Scientology and advertising. Their M.O. is this. They try to swing a deal that is a sweet bargain for them and which seems like a great deal to the seller. That's fine, lots of people do that. But when it comes time to pay the bill, instead of NET 30, it ends up being, "NET whenever we (CoS) have the money and it is your bill's turn to get paid." And since they are always behind, your bill ain't getting paid for a long time. We turned down their business for that precise reason.

Really, CPAC?

Donald Trump as conservative presidential hopeful? Seriously? This has to be a low point for CPAC. And that has nothing to do with the gay rights and everything to do with the fact that we are talking Donald Trump, here.