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Tax VOX

Is public employee compensation really causing Wisconsin's budget woes?

Either way, discussions about public employee compensation do need to be part of long-term budget fixes.

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So, are we about to enter a wave of rolling back union rights? Maybe not.

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With 29 Republican governors (17 just elected), many with Republican legislative majorities, it seems like the current budget problems could be used to justify stricter limits on collective bargaining. However, recent polls show barely half of Republicans (54 percent favor: 41 percent oppose) support limiting public sector collective bargaining. It is no surprise that 79 percent of Democrats oppose these restrictions, but most ominously for Walker and other hard-liners, so do 62 percent of Independents. That may be one reason why some GOP governors, such as Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey are shying away from open war over bargaining rights.

Of course those surveyed didn’t want to raise taxes or cut spending programs or wages either, although two-thirds did recognize their states were in budget crisis.

Increasing the public’s understanding that tough choices need to be made is a first step. And public sector workers need to be part of these discussions recognizing that they’ll likely have to contribute more for their benefits to reflect new budget realities, a process that seems to be underway in places like New York and California. However, progress is more likely to be made when all parties are willing to negotiate and minority legislators feel they can be heard without crossing state-lines

At the moment, the only state benefiting from the Wisconsin stand-off may be Illinois, the temporary home to the Badger State’s self-exiled Democratic senators. At least Illinois is picking up a few extra bucks in hotel taxes. And if things get really bad, the Land of Lincoln can always turn in those Wisconsin Dems and collect a bounty.

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