Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Faustian Bargain of WEAC and Kathleen Falk


Yesterday I posted about the decision by WEAC and AFSCME to seek a pledge from the Democratic recall election candidates to veto the next biennial budget unless it contained the restoration of collective bargaining rights for public employees.  Supposedly, the pledge was a major consideration in securing an endorsement from WEAC.  It still isn't clear to me whether the pledge was to veto the next budget unless it contained a total roll-back to the status of public sector collective bargaining prior to Act 10 being enacted and signed by Governor Walker.  If the unions were going to decide to be goofy enough to seek such a pledge, that would be the logical standard requiring the veto to be applied in 2013.  The reporting in yesterday's Journal Sentinel article certainly made it seem like that was the criterion for the pledge:
Falk, the former Dane County executive, has committed to restoring collective bargaining in the next state budget and vetoing the budget if those provisions come out. Four other Democrats, including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, said they wouldn't commit to any one strategy to accomplish that.
Falk, who received the state teachers union endorsement Wednesday at an event in the Madison suburb of Monona, said Walker used a budget-repair bill to pass the repeal of most union bargaining so it was appropriate to use a budget bill to undo it.
"I have said that I will veto a budget bill if it does not have collective bargaining," Falk said. "The way you undo (Walker's) damage is the same vehicle by which he did the damage."
To me that sounds like a commitment by Falk to veto any budget bill that did not fully restore public sector collective bargaining rights to pre-March 2011 status.

But here is the statement that Falk made in Monona yesterday when asked about her veto pledge:

The statement in this video strikes me as a little more equivocal. Will some restoration of collective bargaining rights be enough to avoid a Governor Falk veto of the budget?  Maybe WEAC, AFSCME or the Falk campaign will be able to clarify the extent of her commitment to the unions. Falk doesn't touch this issue on her "Kathleen Falk for Governor" Website.   For that matter, she lays out no policy positions on her website other than these vanilla flavored ones:
My choices as your governor will be different than Scott Walker's. I know Wisconsin is a place where we can have good paying jobs, a clean environment, successful schools and affordable health care. We can have workers and management talking and working together to solve tough problems.
Politician "pledges" are  horses of a different color than policy positions. The Grover Norquist no-tax pledge is inane, and any politician signing on to it should be quickly shown out the door.  So it is with this pledge on which at least some of Wisconsin's public sector unions have insisted.  State politicians are elected to do what is best for the state as a whole, and to adapt their policies to the circumstances and challenges that may arise in the future.  I would have no problem with WEAC and AFSCME insisting that any candidate they endorse in the recall race (assuming it is certified) be committed to restoring collective bargaining rights to pre-March 2011 status.  But the veto pledge is stupid and counter-productive.

Let me give you an example.  In this morning's New York Times there was a front page article on the surprising jump in sales and income tax revenue that Michigan has experienced this year, over $457,000,000 in unanticipated revenue.  What if Wisconsin ends up at the end of 2012 enjoying a similar surplus as our economy comes back?  Assume the Wisconsin legislature in 2013, controlled at least in part by the GOP,  thinks it is fine to leave collective bargaining as it is now, but decides that there is enough good news about economic recovery to spend the unexpected surplus on improving access to Badger Care, adding money to the University budget, and increasing school aids. Do we want the governor committed to veto that budget purely in order to pay for her endorsement bargain with WEAC and AFSCME?  To ask the question is to answer it.  Do we want her to put Democratic legislators in the position of having to vote against expanding state funding for health and education in order to sustain her veto?  What a wonderful outcome that would be for the GOP!

Finally, (as I noted yesterday) apart from the inherent undesirability of these kinds of candidate pledges, this particular pledge was politically so thick-headed as to make you marvel that WEAC is led by educators. It is going to sell very badly everywhere but in a small subset of public union members' households.  I guess I could see the Marty Biels of the world being out of touch with the leanings of Wisconsin voters, but not an organization like WEAC with members in every nook and cranny of the state.  Based on the postings on the WEAC Facebook page last night and today, it seems increasingly clear that the decision to extract the pledge and jump onto Falk's bandwagon was something about which WEAC rank and file members were neither informed nor consulted.  The postings on the Facebook page are running about 50 to 1 against the endorsement.  Many of the WEAC members are calling for WEAC to "do a Komen." 

Merriam Webster describes a Faustian bargain as a bargain "made or done for present gain without regard for future cost or consequences."  The WEAC - Falk bargain seems clearly to fit this definition.  I will say again what I said yesterday:  Either Kathleen Falk will not be the candidate for governor on the Democratic side in the recall election, or the effort of 50,000 people who pounded the pavement in freezing weather to secure recall signatures will be wholly wasted.

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