"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tim Pawlenty on Government Unions

Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota writes in today's Wall Street Journal about what is, to my mind, the key problem in America today -- the power of government employee unions.  It's an important article, and Pawlenty could be the most serious (and, sneakily, the most electable) Republican likely to run for President in 2012.   Here's the money quote:
Federal employees receive an average of $123,049 annually in pay and benefits, twice the average of the private sector. And across the country, at every level of government, the pattern is the same: Unionized public employees are making more money, receiving more generous benefits, and enjoying greater job security than the working families forced to pay for it with ever-higher taxes, deficits and debt.

How did this happen? Very quietly. The rise of government unions has been like a silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions.

Public employee unions contribute mightily to the campaigns of liberal politicians ($91 million in the midterm elections alone) who vote to increase government pay and workers. As more government employees join the unions and pay dues, the union bosses pour ever more money and energy into liberal campaigns. The result is that certain states are now approaching default. Decades of overpromising and fiscal malpractice by state and local officials have created unfunded public employee benefit liabilities of more than $3 trillion.
I have often said to friends at work who are politically inclined that the real battle of the next generation is between public employees and the rest of us.   When government gets so big that government workers become a constituency and a power center in politics, we are in deep trouble.   Any politician who stands for the following principles will get my vote.

First, contracts between governments and public employees are not suicide pacts.   Any contract between the federal government, a state, a county, a city, a school district, or any other public entity and its employees ought not be able to bind future generations to pay unreasonable level of benefits.   Public employees will have to be made to "give something back," to share in the sacrifice that we are all going to have to make to get out of the fiscal disaster we are currently hurtling toward.   A country where private employees making $60,000 with few benefits work until age 67 or 68 before they retire and are taxed in order to pay benefits to public employees who make $100,000 with Cadillac benefits and who may have retired at age 55... that's not a country that will survive very long.

Second, there ought not be a right to unionize for public employees, period.  This is a democracy.  We vote in our leaders.   They must be presumed to be employers who will not unfairly exploit the public workforce.  Unions are, therefore, unnecessary, because the evil that unions exist to prevent -- exploitation by business owners -- cannot as a matter of logic occur with a government employer.  

Pawlenty will be someone I will be watching over the next 6-8 months.   This "position paper" is a good start.  

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