Two Governors

Scott Walker and Tim Pawlenty's take on government employee unions

Leaders of our fellow upper-Midwestern states are starting to zero-in on government employee unions. It will be interesting to see if Michigan's incoming governor takes a stand on this issue.

Last week, Gov.-elect Scott Walker of Wisconsin got the ball rolling when he brought up the possibility of revamping the state’s labor relations. Frustrated with union resistance to cost-cutting measures needed to bring Wisconsin’s budget back in order, Walker went through his options in a luncheon sponsored by the Milwaukee Press Club: “Anything from the (sic) decertify 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.”

Outgoing Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty adds his own take in today’s Wall Street Journal, and he pulls no punches, describing the rise of government employee unions as “a silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions.” Pawlenty concludes that “[t]he moral case for unions — protecting working families from exploitation — does not apply to public employment” and, “If we’re going to stop the government unions’ silent coup, conservative reformers around the country must fight this challenge head-on.”

Minnesota and Wisconsin are very similar to Michigan, in terms of both climate and culture, and the grievances that Walker and Pawlenty raise about government employee unions — the costs, the taxpayer-subsidized political activism — all apply here. James Hohman estimates that oversized government employee benefits in Michigan cost taxpayers $5.7 billion annually, a staggering figure. “[P]ublic-sector unions have become the exploiters,” Pawlenty writes, “and working families once again need someone to stand up for them."

Scott Walker and Tim Pawlenty deserve credit for sounding the alarms in their own states. Will any of our elected officials in Michigan pick up the theme here?