Commentary: There are lessons to learn from Wisconsin

The Sacramento BeeFebruary 24, 2011 

The assault on public employee unions by Republican governors in Wisconsin and a growing roster of other states is a cynical ploy to bust the political power of Big Labor and its Democratic allies.

But those unions made themselves plump targets by extracting lucrative benefits during boom times, then zealously guarding them despite the worst recession in decades.

That lesson ought to resound loud and clear in California, where shared sacrifice is essential to plug a $26.6 billion hole in the state budget and balance local government budgets.

Taxpayers will have to kick in; many Californians, including some of the most vulnerable, will receive fewer services. The leaders of unions for state and local employees alike have to recognize that some benefits are simply unsustainable.

So far, they have been able to avoid reality by spending millions each and every election to keep their stranglehold on the Legislature and many local elected boards. They showed their muscle again Tuesday evening at the Capitol, where about 2,500 public employees rallied in support of their Wisconsin brethren.

You don't need to look far for evidence that the standoff in Wisconsin is as much about politics as budget savings. In his bid to limit union bargaining power, Gov. Scott Walker is targeting teachers and others friendly to Democrats while exempting police and firefighters, whom Republicans apparently don't have the courage to confront. Two of the biggest unions have agreed to pay more of their pensions and health care, but Walker is holding out for his draconian bill.

In California, collective bargaining rights are in no immediate jeopardy. A bill introduced Tuesday by a Republican assemblyman to eliminate bargaining for pension benefits has no real chance of passage.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.

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