On scenes from Cairo on the Isthmus

Well, that was quite a week, wasn't it?

Gov. Walker's decision to curtail collective bargaining by public employee unions as part of his budget fix, a move that I continue to believe is unnecessary to achieve a balanced budget, touched off a reaction that brought back scenes from the '60s. Oh, what a nostalgic rush for aging hippies!

Just a few cogent observations:

I agree with the Governor that benefit concessions are necessary to balance the state budget, but I still don't see how ending collective bargaining for benefits and work rules for public employees gives local governments and school boards the "tools" to deal with their costs. The Governor has made this point repeatedly, but for the life of me (perhaps it's my thick skull), I don't see the relevance. If local governments and school boards don't have the backbone to negotiate economically sustainable contracts with public employees, how is that the unions' fault?

I know that about half the states in the country don't allow any collective bargaining by public employees, and that Walker is only talking about curtailing them, not eliminating them, but I just don't think this step is necessary to achieve benefit concessions in tough times. In addition, I would like state workers to be able to negotiate a restoration of what they lose when the economy surges back, the state's financial situation improves, and it can be done in the context of a balanced budget.

Temporary concessions are much better than job losses, which would not be good for state employees or for Madison businesses.

As for the protests, so far (thank God) they have been conducted peacefully and without violence, even when Tea Party members arrived in Madison on Saturday to counter the pro-union demonstrators. As corny as it sounds, that says a lot about our sense of citizenship. We have the right to peaceably assemble, and so far that important modifier has not been lost on people.

On the other hand, Madison teachers did not exactly cover themselves with glory last week. I know they considered the protest a teachable moment for students, but they need to understand they are trying to make their case to a statewide audience. The people who pay teacher salaries and benefits are not just located in Greater Madison; they also reside in Green Bay, Eau Claire, Superior, and Algoma. When you skip work, lie about being sick, and even secure notes from the doctor so that you can still get paid, the rest of the world really is watching, as some protesters put it, and they are pretty disgusted by this aspect of the demonstration.

Had you reported to work, which you could have done because Senate Democrats high-tailed it out of the state, postponing a vote on the budget bill, and if you had come to picket on your off hours, you would have commanded more respect statewide and you would be in better shape in what is largely a public relations war. I can assure you that a common lament outside of Madison goes something like this: "It must be nice to be a teacher. You can fake a sick day, be seen in public demonstrating, and face no employment consequences whatever. If I did that, I'd be collecting unemployment."

Far from wounding Walker politically, the events of the past week make it more likely that in the next election, Republicans will gain that crucial 20th Senate seat needed for a quorum. What Democratic Party Senators did in bolting for Illinois was not illegal, just pathetic, and I hope they have the good sense not to try to stick taxpayers with the bill for holing up in the Land of Lincoln, or there will be even more hell to pay in the next election. It's time to get back to work and play a moderating role on the floor of the Legislature.

Pro-union demonstrators, I'm with you on the collective bargaining component of this fracas, but I hope your tactics from this point forward are more sensible. Just in case you don't realize it, you're not up against a Republican "dumbo" in Scott Walker. You're taking on a Machiavellian player here, and so far some of you are playing right into his hands.

As for the Governor, it's time to accept the compromise that's evident to everyone – dropping the collective bargaining demand in exchange for benefit concessions. A big deadline hits by week's end because that's when the state has to commit to refinancing its debt at today's lower rates, or it won't realize upwards of $150 million in savings.That requires Democrats to return to the Capitol and vote on a revised measure (minus the collective bargaining demand).

If those savings aren't realized, layoffs could begin soon, and by that point this controversy will create a pox on everybody's house.

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