Can Wisconsin Happen Here?

Commentary by Ron Miller

Ron MillerAs I observe the standoff in Wisconsin between the people's elected representatives - well, at least those who are still in the state - and the public sector unions, I wonder if such a scene could be played out here in Maryland.

All the signs are there. Maryland's public sector pension fund is over $19 billion in the red, and the state is over $15 billion in the hole for health benefits owed to current and future retirees. Overall, the state pension funds are only 64 percent funded and, as a result, they have the lowest bond rating in the nation.

Under the current pension system, these costs will continue to increase, adding billions more to an already swirling sea of red ink, and driving the state toward bankruptcy.

Governors all over the country are grappling with this problem. Some are proposing converting their pension plans to investment vehicles similar to private sector 401(k) plans, increasing the employee's contribution to their own retirement.

Others are limiting collective bargaining by public employees because, unlike private unions, the symbiosis between elected officials and public sector unions creates a conflict of interest, where public unions fund and support the campaigns of elected officials, who in turn negotiate pay and benefits for the ones who contributed to their election.

The problem with this relationship is that the taxpayer is footing the bill, in effect subsidizing public unions to continue supporting elected officials who share their desire to expand government at the taxpayer's expense. The public unions are not accountable in any way to the electorate, yet the influence they exert on state governments is considerable.

Longtime political writer and analyst Michael Barone, primary author of The Almanac of American Politics, pointedly addresses this conflict of interest:
Follow the money, Washington reporters like to say. The money in this case comes from taxpayers, present and future, who are the source of every penny of dues paid to public employee unions, who in turn spend much of that money on politics, almost all of it for Democrats. In effect, public employee unions are a mechanism by which every taxpayer is forced to fund the Democratic Party.
In the midst of the state grappling with a $1 billion plus budget shortfall, six state senators are proposing $827 million in "new revenues" to avoid budget cuts to their preferred programs. They call their proposal "Maryland First", but the only way this program will put Maryland first is in the ranking of states with the highest tax burden, moving us up from fourth.

Want to wager that these six senators are beneficiaries of generous public union contributions and support?

Never mind that bankrupting the state will result in significant public sector job losses, an ironclad certainty that seems to have escaped the public union protesters and sympathizers.

If Maryland's public employees, and public workers across the country, are to stay employed, pension reform is not political gamesmanship or class warfare, or any of the other drivel the liberal talking point machine is cranking out at record speed as the general public starts to wake up to the time bomb in their laps. It is critical.

So will we see a replay of Madison, Wisconsin in the streets of Annapolis?


But it won't be because our governor sees the oncoming train and is willing to take bold steps to get us off the tracks before it's too late. He's too busy criticizing those governors who are taking action, condemning them for being cruel and heartless to public employees.

What they're really doing is treating their constituents like adults, and considering the well-being of all their people, not just the screaming children who want what they want, when they want it, and don't care how they get it.

They're living in the real world, while Annapolis still believes in fairy tales and money that grows on trees. Of course, it might be hard for the one-party monopoly in Maryland see over the horizon when their view is blocked by stacks of union cash.

When people eventually flood the streets of Annapolis in protest, it won't be the public unions - not at first.

It will be the taxpayers who revolt, but they'll soon be joined by the public employees who've lost their jobs because the state wasn't honest with them, and left the problem for someone else to deal with down the road.

Ron Miller is a conservative writer and commentator, author of the book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom’s Porch, and the president of Regular Folks United, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of individual liberty, free markets and our nation's founding principles. The nine-year plus veteran of the U.S. Air Force and married father of three writes columns for several online sites and print publications, and his own website, Join him on Facebook and Twitter.

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