May 2 2012
Conservatives who propose ways to save money that might go to shore up programs on which genuinely vulnerable populations depend are generally described as heartless.
Ads featuring a Rep. Paul Ryan look-alike pushing granny over a cliff in herwheel chair are the apotheosis of this tactic. Interestingly, Ryan’s budget, which contains many unpopular cuts, may be the only thing standing between granny and the cliff.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to reduce the collective bargaining power of public unions merited the "heartless" treatment. As Christian Schneider, a senior fellow with the Wisconsin Policy Research Center, describes it in a piece in City Journal:
They accused Walker of “attacking,” “assaulting,” and “assailing” the public and called him a “dictator” and a “despot,” trying to cast him as a sort of governmental Nosferatu sucking public services away from those who needed them. United Wisconsin, the group responsible for organizing an attempt to recall Walker from office, accused the governor of “balancing the budget on the backs of the people.”
According to Schneider, however, the numbers “tell a different story:” Walker is pouring more money into helping people who really need help. Here is what happened, according to Schneider:
Walker’s budget called for state and local government employees to begin paying into their own pension accounts; most had paid nothing until then. Walker also raised the amount that government employees would pay toward their health insurance to 12.6 percent of their premiums—almost half of what the private sector pays. Walker anticipated that these changes would save the state about $1.2 billion. Consequently, in the very same budget, he increased state funding for Medicaid by $1.2 billion to ensure, he said, that “the neediest, the poorest of the poor, seniors, needy families and children are the ones taken care of.” Had Walker not reformed government employees’ pension and health benefits, he could never have increased funding for the poor and the sick by that sum.
What we are really seeing is that a strong and greedy lobby—in this instance, the public unions—is working for itself and, while claiming to be for “the people,” is really devoted to lining their own coffers—at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.
Walker’s scaling back of the collective bargaining power of these unions—which do well in such negotiations because they are bargaining with politicians who have a vested interest in making the unions happy and are using other’s people’s money—was quite different from what happened in Illinois.
Governor Pat Quinn raised state taxes by $7 billion, but the state ended up $9 billion in the hole because of lavish union pensions. The state currently owes Medicaid providers a backlog of around $1.9 billion.
So who’s heartless?