Friday, April 29, 2011

Missing the Point - A Few Examples

One of the fascinating things about our recent contretemps over public employee compensation has been the remarkable lack of self awareness on the part of public employee unions. Two cases in point. Jay Bullock, who I have always thought is a good guy and a smart writer, says that Scott Walker "lies." The jumping off point seems to be an isolated in which Walker said that all he was asking was additional (and rather modest) contributions to their pensions and health insurance.

Not so, says Jay, the budget repair bill eliminates the right of public employee unions to bargain on matters other than compensation. Absolutely true but I don't know that it is fair to say that Walker has "lied" about that. Picking a single statement that is not complete or fully qualified when the peron in question has made many other statements that fully explain the matter at hand is a cheap blogger trick unworthy of Jay. The Governor has explained many times why that is necessary to restrict collective bargaining and how it impacts budgetary issues.

Here's the lack of self awareness part. Jay goes on to demonstrate just why Walker is right. He attempts to illustrate the MTEA contract's breadth by noting that it is 258 pages long. Jay - dude - that's not a refutation of the need for reform. It is proof of the need for reform. No one - and I mean no one - needs a 258 page employment contract. Jay's suggestion that it must be so "to make sure that the best education for our kids is happening at all times" would be laughable if the fact that he apparently believes it wasn't so sad.

All sorts of things get done in this world - supercomputers are built, sattelites are launched and hearts are transplanted - without 258 page employment contracts. In fact, I would argue that, in addition to costing school districts tons of money, this micromanagement of working conditions is one of the reasons that we have seen fifty years of enormous increases in the funding of public education coupled with a general decline in the performance of public schools.

Jay seems to think that things like teacher mentoring programs or procedures for handling assualt on teachers to specifications of the length of the school day will all be eliminated if they aren't in a collective bargaining agreement. Note to Jay: all of these things exist in non-unionized environments. Nonunionized employers do all sorts of things to attract and retain workers and provide services and products that their customers will value. A 258 page contract is not part of the solution; it's part of the problem/

And MichaeL Rosen speculates that Scott Walker wants to raid public employee pension funds. Of course, he can do no such thing. Existing pension funds are legally off limits. This suggests the problem with Rosen's argument that there is no reason to worry about public employee pensions because the state retirement plan is well funded and well managed.

But that only means that the state is currently paying enough into the fund to cover most of the accrued benefits. That's a good thing but has nothing to do with whether the state can afford to continue promising benefits at current levels. It is that question that the Governor proposes to study.

And Rosen ultimately concedes the point although he doesn't recognize it. He concludes by saying that the governor is going to look at public employee pensions because "that's where the money is."


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