03.02.2011 1

The Politics of Wisconsin’s Budget Battle

Big Labor Storms Wisconsin Capitol

By Bill Wilson

A misleading story from the New York Times published Mar. 1, “Majority in Poll Back Employees in Public Sector Unions” once again shows the lengths the mainstream media will go to come to the rescue of the public sector unions, this time in Wisconsin. “Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent,” writes the Times, quoting a CBS-Times poll from Feb. 24-27.

The problem is that this does not tell the entire story. In the very same poll, 37 percent say that the unions have too much influence in politics, with only 19 percent saying they have too little influence. Since the “influence” wielded by the unions in the public sector is collective bargaining over salary, pensions, and health care benefits, this is a contradictory result.

How can respondents both say the unions wield their influence too much in politics and yet claim to support them wielding it? There’s more to the story, but of course, the Times failed to report this contradiction in its story about the poll. Such cherry picking should give readers pause before blindly accepting the Times’ preconceived narrative.

Certainly, if the public by a large plurality believes the public sector unions are wielding too much influence, then it is impossible for a majority to unconditionally “back employees in public sector unions”.

In the same poll, 45 percent say that the reason the public sector unions’ pension and health care benefits are being targeted is to reduce state budget deficits, with only 41 percent saying it was to weaken the power of the unions. This means the public is not buying the union line that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who wants to require state employees pay into their own pensions and health care, is carrying out some sort of vendetta against the unions.

But, again, the Times failed to report that nearly a majority of those polled understood that proposals in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Ohio, and other states that are considering reining in public sector union benefits were primarily aimed at balancing budgets. Can’t let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?

Another off-base poll by Pew found that 42 percent of those polled backed the public sector unions, with only 31 percent siding with Governor Walker’s proposals. Of course, Pew is the same organization that found that 57 percent of Americans supported the TARP bank bailouts of September 2008, with only 30 percent opposed. Nobody believed it then, and once again, Pew’s result on public sector unions strains credulity.

More or less, both Pew and the CBS-Times polls are transparent propaganda tools to help the government to advance its interests. They must be taken with a giant grain of salt in evaluating public support for Governor Walker’s reasonable proposals to rein in Wisconsin’s budget.

For example, according to Rasmussen Reports, 61 percent voters “believe that members of public employee unions should contribute the same percentage to their health care and pension plans as those in the private sector pay.” Only 16 percent disagreed.

Plus, 67 percent opposed Democrat lawmakers’ attempts to boycott Governor Walker’s proposals by fleeing the state.

Here, the questions by Scott Rasmussen were very clear. When you ask Americans if public sector unions should pay into their own health care and retirements — the heart of Governor Walker’s proposal — they overwhelmingly support it. And when asked about the Left’s tactics to obstruct those proposals, they reject those by an even wider margin.

But none of that fits into the Left’s narrative, so do not expect to see it widely reported. This, too, is by design. The purpose of the Pew and CBS-Times polls is to make Governor Walker and Wisconsin Republicans feel isolated. They should not be intimidated.

Instead, Republicans need to continue to be assertive about what precisely they are fighting for: fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, and reducing lavish, unsustainable benefits programs for public employees who are not sharing the burden with taxpayers. By offering the clear alternative to the public sector union demands, Governor Walker will easily win this debate — and set the stage for other governors to do likewise.

Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government.

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