In response to my post yesterday on Governor Walker, Lester Pines complains that the Governor's motivation was political based on the desire to destroy an institution that opposes the Republican Party and, although he doesn't say it, supports the Democrats. For Lester, collective bargaining reform "was motivated by a desire to eliminate the main opponents of the political and social agenda of the Republican Party, not to ensure that state and municipal budgets were balanced."
Two things. First, reforming collective bargaining is intrinsically tied with balancing state and municipal budgets. The contracts that labor unions negotiate cost money. They add cost not only by increasing wages and fringe benefits, but by imposing a panoply of work rules and limitations on the management of the public workforce that increase costs. If you make it harder to fire poor performers, change job duties and manage in a way designed to deliver the most service at the lowest cost, you make it more difficult to balance the budget.
Second, the political motivations for supporting or opposing collective bargaining as we have known it in Wisconsin cut both ways and, in my view, the fire side equities cut in the Governor's favor. To be sure, the Walker reforms will reduce the amount of money that unions have to contribute to the Democrats and spend in ways that promote the Democratic and left liberal agenda.
But why is that so?
It is so because the unions will now have to convince their members to support their political activities. In the past, unions could compel even those who did not wish to belong to unions to financially support their activities. While employees could ask that their fair share payments not include funds used for political activity, this is an enormously ineffective remedy. First, the amounts excluded as "political" are generally oonly a fraction of the amount that might be characterized as such. Second, money is fungible so even money used to support supposedly nonpolitical activities supports an infrastructure upon which political activities can be based. Third, it is enormously beneficial to the unions to require employees to "opt out." This makes it much easier to collect money than it would be if the unions - like every other organization that spends money on politics - had to convince members to choose to send them money and arrange to collect it themselves.
Eliminating these advantages will benefit Republicans and help Democrats just as retaining them would benefit Democrats and hurt Republicans. But there is no intrinsic right for unions to have them and, in fact, I would argue that retaining them is a serious imposition on the prerogatives of dissenting employees and confers an artificial advantage on Democrats.
Jim Rowen complains that Walker did not campaign on collective bargaining reform but it is unclear how that supports a recall. As George Mitchell asks, would Jim have thought it appropriate to recall Governor Doyle for not campaigning on a tax increase? Do we want a principle that says that public officials cannot implement any policy that they did not mention during their campaign?
I understand that Lester and Jim don't support the Governor and wish he was gone. Some of us had similar feelings about Governor Doyle (whose record of rewarding campaign supporters was every bit the equal - I would say much more blatant - than Walker's). Somehow we avoided an eternal campaign. But if recalls are going to become just another arrow in the political quiver, the Democrats may be sorry that they started this. Once a restraint on political combat is cast aside, it is almost impossible to go back.