What might have been, wonders Instapundit, and so should the rest of us. Five years ago, the new governor of Wisconsin pushed for reforms of public-employee union collective bargaining in order to break the grip of the Wisconsin Education Association Trust on benefits, as their wildly inflated prices were bankrupting local governments and forcing the state to subsidize them. When Scott Walker pushed for his Act 10 reforms, union protesters filled the capital in Madison and Democratic legislators ran out of state to deny the legislature a quorum, earning the sobriquet “fleebaggers.” The media and the power elite blamed this on Walker and Republicans for being “extreme,” and demanded the withdrawal of Act 10 as destructive to politics and the state. Walker stuck to his guns, and Act 10 eventually passed — although Walker would have to weather a recall election when unions tried to get revenge the next year.
How did all of that work out for Wisconsin? Forbes’ Patrick Gleason and the MacIver Institute look at the numbers, and discovers that the three weeks in which the Act 10 circus shut down Wisconsin’s legislature ended up saving taxpayers more than $5 billion in the five years since:
The analysis found that Wisconsin saved $3.36 billion by requiring government employees contribute a reasonable amount to their own retirement. The analysis also estimates local units of governments saved an additional $404.8 million total by taking common sense steps like opening their employees’ health insurance to competitive bidding. Milwaukee Public Schools saved $1.3 billion in long-term pension liabilities, and Neenah saved $97 million in long-term pension liabilities in addition to other savings.
These taxpayer savings are only possible thanks to Act 10.
Five years after Gov. Walker introduced it, Act 10 is still the gift that keeps on giving. The MacIver Institute analysis found that the Medford School District recently realized an 11 percent decrease in the cost of its health insurance business by opening it to competitive bidding.
Medford officials were able to make that cost-saving choice because of Act 10.
Gleason points out that the benefits of Act 10’s reform and of the resolve of Walker and Wisconsin Republicans go beyond the numbers. They also liberated thousands of public employees who suddenly had the choice of whether to join a union. That led to momentum that allowed Wisconsin Republicans to extend that freedom across the board:
In addition to the savings and income tax relief that Act 10 has permitted, it has also given workers a choice as to whether to join and financially support a union. Workers have been exercising this freedom a great deal over the last five years. Since 2011, AFSCME District Council 40 in Madison has seen its membership decrease by 70% and funding drop by 63%, while AFSCME District Council 48 in Milwaukee has seen membership and receipts fall 69% and 83% respectively.
What’s really impressive is how Gov. Walker and Wisconsin legislators, after getting the budget repair act done, have continued passing significant and much-needed reforms that require a great deal of political courage. Last year, Wisconsin became the 25th state to pass Right to Work legislation, freeing workers from being forced to join a union as a condition of employment. That was followed up with a repeal of prevailing wage requirements that drive up the cost of taxpayer-financed municipal construction projects.
Reducing the cost of government, and increasing liberty. Sounds like a great model for the rest of the nation, eh? Unfortunately, Walker turned out to be less adept at navigating the waters of this peculiar presidential primary cycle and ran out of resources to continue his bid. It’s difficult, however, to look at this and not wonder what might have been had Walker been able to bring this kind of effort to Washington DC, and not to compare this track record with the remaining realistic candidates left in the GOP primaries on Super Tuesday.
Gleason notes at the end that the unions will try to spend enough money to roll back these reforms after the 2016 election by taking control of the Wisconsin state senate. All that would do would be to gridlock Madison for the next two years, but Wisconsin voters should take note of the massive savings Walker’s reforms have already produced and think twice about returning Democrats to any level of authority in the state.
In fact, Republicans have a real opportunity to turn Wisconsin red in 2016, as I argue in my upcoming book Going Red. The ground has changed as a result of Act 10, but politics have become significantly more bitter than they were in the past in the state, too. It will take a highly granular and personal campaign to win over voters and to turn them out in a presidential election — and that may be critical to keeping the state legislature Republican, too. This is one state where the presidential race may have a particularly strong impact on down-ballot races.