What does Chuck Schumer know about Wisconsin?
A lot, apparently. Or so he says. New York’s senior senator, who rarely misses a chance to play the populist card, has seized on the fiscal crisis in Madison to raise his profile and a few campaign dollars as well. Mr. Schumer recently sent a mass email to supporters condemning Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempts to limit collective bargaining rights for public employees. He urged recipients to send checks to the Democratic Party to prevent Mr. Walker from taking “America back to the 1920s.”
Presumably the senator’s staff historian is aware that the 1920s were known in these parts as the Roaring ’20s, a time of heady (albeit illusory) prosperity on Wall Street and Main Street alike. Taking America back to times of plenty may not be such a bad idea, but that’s clearly not what Mr. Schumer had in mind. He is suggesting that Governor Walker and others like him are determined to turn public employees into serfs simply because they share Franklin Roosevelt’s belief that collective bargaining rights shouldn’t apply to public employees.
Mr. Schumer should stay out of Wisconsin’s business. What’s more, he and like-minded people ought to bear in mind that 21st-century voters are less concerned about the 1920s than they are about the 2020s. They are wondering if states and the nation itself will be bankrupt by the end of this decade because public-employee unions have demanded and received benefits that are simply unaffordable and increasingly unfair.
Governor Walker has his sights set not on the next election, which generally is the extent of Senator Schumer’s vision, but on the next generation of Wisconsin taxpayers. He knows what nearly every other governor knows–that state governments (and local governments, and the federal government) must reform their pension and benefits systems now. Not next year. Not in 2016. Now.
Governor Walker argues that the only way to achieve radical change is to eliminate collective bargaining for most state workers. It is an extreme idea, but these are extreme times. The main flaw in the governor’s proposal is that it doesn’t go far enough–he wants to exempt firefighters, state troopers and police officers, who, generally speaking, tend to have the most generous benefits. In Wisconsin, the police and firefighter unions also tend to support Republican candidates.
Still, Mr. Walker has shown the courage to challenge the status quo and recognize reality. Unlike Mr. Schumer, he isn’t worried about 1920. He is looking ahead to 2020–just nine years away. And he doesn’t like what he sees.
Public-employee unions have far too much power–often their political clout allows them to choose who will sit across from them at the bargaining table. It’s time for a reality check. Governor Walker is doing just that in Wisconsin. Senator Schumer would be wise to watch and learn.