“Bold” or “Drastic”?

Today, most Wisconsinites either hate Gov. Walker or love him, and I think some are going to switch-hit on this issue of the not-so-inherent right of state employees to engage in collective bargaining. As for me, I’m sitting on the fence on this one – not because I don’t have an opinion (I always have strong opinions) but because I think the governor is damned if he doesn’t do something “bold” and damned if he does do something “drastic.”

“Bold” is the Republican word of the day, and it sounds so much more inspiring than “drastic,” the Democrat word of the day. Regardless, if the budget deficit isn’t truly addressed in a bold/drastic way, taxpayers in this state are in for a world of hurt. That’s reality. We might all agree that there is a limit, given the state’s own revolving door in political appointees and the sheer numbers of public employees that are living longer today, as to how much we can afford to compensate public employees and for how long.

At issue is the eternal question: What is fair compensation and what are fair staffing levels? Secondarily: Who should decide? But the key questions, which I hope will not be lost in all the wordsmithing, are “How much money do we have available to pay anyone, and what are ‘must have’ services versus ‘urban utopia’ dreams? What should this state aspire to provide all of its citizens following a recession?”

And before we even agree to disagree about that, can we all just take a deep breath? I think our first expectation, as citizens of this great state, should be for less rhetoric and more transparency from all involved. It’s getting so that I can’t tell the Devil from the Details anymore, because I used to think business was holy, and then I thought unions were sacred, and now I think both are intrinsically good but opportunistic politicians on both sides of the fence have a stake in making us believe they are both Evil Empires to blame for All Problems. So can we just take a step back from our respective parties’ Kool-Aid?

I’d like to know what benefits the public is paying for, when it comes to public employees, and what we are not paying for. I think we all hope and believe that those we employ – public servants or civil servants, to use the old language – should be given the same opportunities and fair compensation that exist in the free market. And, we might agree, collective bargaining used to provide those checks and balances. Does it today? I don’t know and don’t pretend to.

After we separate all the rhetoric and “me, me, me” from the equations before us, what is the common ground between the voting populace and taxpayers and business and government and unions today? Mud.

The pendulum swings both ways

Gov. Walker was elected to lead, and my inclination is to let him lead and to follow that lead, whether I voted for him or not (I did not). But then, I’m not a school teacher or a state employee, so that’s easy for me to say, right? (Actually, I have an out-of-state cop daughter and a nurse daughter, so my loyalties are more divided than you’d know.)

I’m serious about sitting on the fence but (more disclosure) even before Gov. Walker announced his directives, I personally was becoming alarmed at the increasingly irresponsible language the labor unions were using in local radio commercials. I found them inflammatory and not so much pro-labor as anti-business. This talk of CEOs who make gazillions of dollars not wanting to create jobs or to pay fair wages is absurd. Business CEOs want nothing more than to create jobs, and to suggest otherwise is moronic. (How’s that for inflammatory language?) Nor did business celebrate the recession and use it to cripple American workers and wage structures. When I listen to those commercials, I wonder “Where’s the beef?”

However, from my view on the fence, Gov. Walker was elected on a pro-business platform – that was the white horse he was going to ride into Government, and it’s what most laypeople associate him with, as a direct result of his campaign focus. Yet one of the first things out of the chute is the assumption that collective bargaining is no longer a building block of the state’s economy, but rather as a stumbling block to its financial recovery. Just as I bemoan the irresponsible posturing of the labor unions, I also worry that we’re tossing out the baby with the bath water with this rhetoric, and that all Business in general is going to be associated with this sentiment.

So I would point out that the Governor is now wearing a government hat, not a business hat. He doesn’t represent one sector; he has to bridge all sectors of the economy and the state, and his opinion is that to restore a sustainable infrastructure to this state (long overdue), he has to take drastic (oops – BOLD) steps. I get that, and I don’t have enough knowledge about the situation to agree or disagree about his path. But that doesn’t mean this is a Business point of view – it’s a Government issue.

Is there middle ground if we get the politics out of the way?

We need a united front with a shared vision, a bi-partisan recovery plan. We need to pull together and admit that the enemy was the recession and both Business and Labor are the best hope for recovery, and the biggest impediment to both is, from my vantage point on the fence, partisan political rhetoric. It’s divisive for personal or party gain – that’s how I see it.

Most Wisconsinites (Working Joes and and CEOs alike, I still believe), walk together down the middle of the road. Most, in my experience, are fiscally responsible yet socially progressive. Yet two bi-polar political parties are about to re-create the McCarthy sensationalism years pitting “The common man” against “Big business” – though the rationale behind curtailing collective bargaining has nothing to do with Big Business. It has, in my opinion, everything to do with state government waste, pork belly politics, and lackadaisical financial planning – past, present and probably future – and please, rational people, don’t confuse who has controlled (i.e., robbed Peter to pay Paul) the state budget to date. This isn’t “us” against “us” – and hurting any of “us” hurts all of us and it isn’t going to balance a budget.

We’re bound to make national headlines in this state again, and heads are going to butt, and more than a few will leave the political arena with black eyes or besmirched reputations because the media is about to have a field day, as are political pundits. We’re about to have sound-bite hell in this state and I, for one, would just as soon sit it out. Not because of apathy, but because it’s just smart to get out of the way of an oncoming train if you don’t have a bold/drastic plan to stop it.

I, for one, don’t have any idea even where to start to balance the budget (that was the original goal, remember?), though I think people like Todd Berry of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance do. I think, for most of us, the truth already is bound up in innuendo and fear-mongering and turf radio wars. There is no transparent wrapper.

And my prediction is that even middle-of-the-road mud is about to get muddier.

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