Touché, Mr. Prestegard

Conservative blogger Steve Prestegard has convinced me that I’m spreading a myth, a yarn that contends Gov. Scott Walker did not campaign on changes to collective bargaining for unionized state employees.

Prestegard, responding to my recent blog about why I don’t object to a recall attempt of Gov. Scott Walker, challenged my assertion with documentation from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state’s largest newspaper, and a large teachers’ union, no fans of Mr. Walker.

I therefore owe Mr. Walker a John Cleese-like apology (think A Fish Called Wanda): “I apologize. I’m really, really sorry. I apologize unreservedly. I offer a complete and utter retraction. The imputation was totally without basis in fact, and was in no way fair comment and was motivated purely by malice, and I deeply regret any distress that my comments may have caused you or your family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat any such slander at any time in the future.”

Okay, I wasn’t exactly dangling from a window, and no malice was intended, but you get the drift.

My old view, flawed that it was, actually is shared by many, perhaps because Walker didn’t exactly blare his intentions from loudspeakers. The press accounts I allude to noted that he thought the state could save $176 million a year by requiring state employees to contribute to their pensions, something I did not object to. 

Another passage notes that Walker supported a bill to take away the rights (privileges, actually) of workers to negotiate health care benefits.

So there it is. You could argue that it was in the fine print, but it was there.

Mr. Prestegard and I exchanged several emails, the first of which wondered how the editor of a business magazine could take the side of government employees instead of those whose excessive taxes pay their salaries, or why I was taking the side of government employee unions over my readers.

I responded that our business readers depend on public employee unions to deliver services, including preparing the next generation workforce, so I try to refrain from making it an “us-versus-them thing.” I noted that I’ve also criticized certain union supporters for their harassment of businesses, in Madison and beyond, that wanted to remain neutral.

In so doing, I’ve tried to point out how much Madison businesses support the livelihoods of public employees with the tax base they create in a town chock-full of tax-exempt property.

In one of our email exchanges, Prestegard makes a another fair point: That if I assert that Walker needed to spell out what he wanted to do to public employee unions, then I also must believe that recall proponents must spell out their opposition to those public employee collective bargaining changes.

Quoting Prestegard directly: “As far as I know, not a single ‘Recallarama’ candidate even used the words collective bargaining in his or her campaigns.”

No, they didn’t, and I’ve criticized that, too, and I will continue to do so if it happens during a gubernatorial recall.

All in all, it was a comeuppance worth having.

Firing back

By the way, the Governor is unloading with both barrels as to the impacts – positive from his standpoint – of his policies. It gives the pro-recall folks plenty to combat if they do indeed force a recall election.

The Governor spins it differently than the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which has released data for a survey done by the Wisconsin Association of Schools District Administrators (83% or 353 school districts responding), but here are the administration's assertions:

  • The median student-to-teacher ratio in Wisconsin this year is 13.5 to 1.
  • New teacher hires outnumber layoffs and non-renewals by 1,213 positions.
  • The three districts with the most teacher layoffs (Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Janesville) didn’t adopt the reforms put in place by Gov. Walker. The Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Janesville school districts account for 68% of teacher layoffs for the entire state, but only contain 12.8% of Wisconsin students.
  • 75% of districts have the same K-3 class sizes or are decreasing them.
  • 67% of districts for grades 4-6 are keeping the same class size or decreasing them.
  • 78% of districts are keeping student fees the same or decreasing them.
  • 92% of districts are keeping sports programs the same or expanding them.

The list goes on and on about how the sky is not falling, so the battle lines are clearly being drawn.