For Walker, there's no disgrace in compromise

Don't you love conventional wisdom? Don't you especially love how often it's just plain wrong?

My favorite commentary coming out of the nation's capital last week was that if Gov. Scott Walker compromised on his budget repair bill – i.e., dropped his proposal to curtail collective bargaining – it would represent a horrendous capitulation and result in his political demise just three months into his administration.

That Washington perspective is rather quaint, but I think most Wisconsinites would appreciate such a compromise, especially since the majority of them disagree with Walker. They are with the Governor on other pieces of the budget repair bill, such as having public employees picking up some of the cost of the pensions and more of their health care, but they clearly believe he has overreached on collective bargaining.

Is there really anything wrong with an elected official admitting that he overreached, especially with 1,500 state employees about to get the pink slip unless this impasse is settled? Bill Clinton, who had been defeated in his re-election bid in the 1980 Arkansas gubernatorial race, went around his state apologizing for the things he did that angered voters and was back in the Governor's mansion two years later. Lesson: voters appreciate public officials who aren't afraid to admit they're wrong.

Walker isn't wrong about everything, and talk of a compromise this weekend raised hopes that wayward Senate Democrats had enough reason to return home, and that those public-sector jobs would not be lost after all. Businesses all over Dane County are hoping that some of their customers don't find themselves on unemployment and lose their purchasing power. That's not what we bargained for with Walker, who has pledged to be a job creator, not a job destroyer.

Granted, when he said Wisconsin is open for business, he was talking about private-sector jobs, but a lot of those private-sector employers provide goods and services to public employees.

That dismal layoff prospect comes amid long overdue rays of economic sunshine. February job numbers offered the first glimpse of hope – energy costs and other inflationary fears notwithstanding – that we may be turning the corner in what so far has been a jobless recovery. Anecdotally, I purchased a new car over the weekend, and the people who processed the paperwork reported that healthier numbers of new cars are being sold each month. The dealership certainly looked busy early on Saturday afternoon, just before the peak customer traffic hours for that particular location.

It's been a gradual improvement, thanks in part to the maintenance of lower federal tax rates and other pro-growth measures President Obama and Congress took before the new year, so the last thing we need is a speed bump – like public employee layoffs. The benefit concessions made by state employees are only a piece to the puzzle; a growing economy in which more people are employed and paying taxes, and more businesses are forming and paying taxes, will lessen but not eliminate the need for budget cuts.

Walker might still win this fracas without having to compromise. Indeed, it looked as though Senate Democrats were starting to give in just a bit, as the Governor has talked about compromising on a provision requiring workers to vote every year on whether their union would remain active or be decertified. It appears the Governor, who is taking it on the chin in recent public opinion polls, understands that this particular provision, an anathema to union bosses, has no real bearing on the state's fiscal health.

Walker also is reportedly offering compromise on limiting pay increases to the rate of inflation (unless the public agrees to go beyond that), but nowhere do I hear about any give on the collective bargaining piece. If Walker were to compromise, say along the lines of a sunset provision suggested by State Sen. Dale Schultz, would it really be an example of capitulation, or reasoned compromise for the good of the state?

Only the heavy-breathing extremists on either side would view compromise as a sign of weakness, particularly when the budget repair bill and especially the proposed state budget call for shared sacrifice – all the way around.

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