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12.23.2010 0

Lame Duck Hunters Prove Election Matters

By Bill Wilson

For decades, public sector unions at the state and local levels have hijacked the public appropriations process via collective bargaining agreements. These have bound the hands of legislators to ever-increasing salaries, pension and health care benefits, who often are unable to modify such agreements. Once negotiated, many legislatures can only approve or reject them.

This is in essence makes public sector unions an unelected fourth branch of government across the country, placing increasing pressure on taxpayers. The point of such arrangements is to cement job security for public employees while setting the bar for compensation ever higher. The agreements ultimately make state budgets inflexible, and the political process becomes polluted as the unions work to buy votes via campaign expenditures in favor of pro-union candidates.

All but twelve states have such arrangements, but that may be starting to come to an end, as noted by the Wall Street Journal. Incoming Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants to end the practice as a means of handing control of the state’s budget completely back to the elected branches of government.

At a speech before the Milwaukee Press Club, Walker said he wants all options on the table to balance the budget: “Anything from [decertification] all the way through modifications of the current laws in place… The bottom line is that we are going to look at every legal means we have to try to put that balance more on the side of taxpayers and the people who care about services.” Walker maintained the agreements would only worsen the state’s projected $3.3 billion two-year budget shortfall.

Peter Davis, general counsel at the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission framed the debate this way: “The right to bargain… exists because that’s the choice the Legislature made in the past, and they could make a different choice in the future… The question would be, ‘Does (Walker) have to deal with them as a matter of law?’”

Good question. States across the country are facing collective budget shortfalls totaling $127 billion for fiscal years 2010, 2011, and 2012 according to the Fiscal Survey of States and over $1 trillion in unfunded public pension liabilities according to Pew Research. So, it certainly makes sense to empower lawmakers with the tools they need to rein in uncontrolled government spending. That must include giving complete budgetary discretion back to elected officials who can then be held accountable by the people.

Unsurprisingly, Walker’s comments set off a firestorm across the political establishment of Wisconsin. Democrats in the state legislature rushed into a lame-duck session to complete the enactment of some 17 agreements with state unions before they lost control of both houses. In the Assembly, they pulled out all the stops to get one lawmaker bailed out of jail just so he could cast the decisive vote in favor of the agreements.

In the Senate, however, the last-minute handouts to the unions failed when Democrat Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker said that incoming Republican majorities should be the ones to deal with the contracts, and voted against the deal. He deserves the thanks of all Wisconsinites for breaking ranks with his party and doing the right thing.

But it goes to show the lengths that radical legislators will go through to spend taxpayers’ money once they lose power.

It shows that elections really do matter.

Nationally, the same thing occurred after Democrats were ousted from the majority in the House of Representatives, where the lame duck session became a grab-bag of special interest handouts, favors, and kickbacks. This was no more so evident than with the $1.27 trillion omnibus spending bill.

Thanks to the outcry from the American people, Senate Republicans rallied under the leadership of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and defeated the trillion-dollar monstrosity. In its stead, Congress has now enacted a continuing resolution through March 4th, 2011. That means the incoming Republican majority in the House will have the chance to listen to the American people and address spending for Fiscal Year 2011.

Is McConnell perfect? Of course not. Does he occasionally stray off the conservative reservation? Sure. But, he masterfully kept his caucus together to beat back the omnibus and before that items like the carbon cap-and-tax and other energy restrictions. ObamaCare was not stopped, but it did not pass with a single Republican voting in favor in the Senate. Even the “stimulus” and the Dodd-Frank financial takeover passed with little Republican support.

For fighting against the Obama agenda, even when the “moderates” in the caucus were playing footsy with the other side, McConnell has done a high service for the American people and he too deserves their thanks. He listened to his constituents, and was one of the major reasons the American people had a clear and distinct choice at the polls in 2010.

Now, electorate has strengthened McConnell’s hand in the Senate with six new Republican senators. This will give him the ability to stop almost any piece of legislation in the Senate, something he did not necessarily possess in 2009-10.

Together, Wisconsin State Senator Decker and national Senator McConnell have listened to their constituents and put a stop to the 2010 lame duck spend-a-thon.

From state capitals across the country like Madison, Wisconsin to Washington, D.C., the American people are sending new representatives into government. And thanks to leaders like Decker and McConnell, for the first time in a generation, the American people will have a seat at the table.

Merry Christmas, America.

Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government.

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