02.24.2011 0

Lawless Legislators Flee Rather than Balance Budgets

By Robert Romano –

By now, it is well known that 14 Wisconsin State Senators have fled their state to avoid a vote on Governor Scott Walker’s proposal close a $3.6 billion budget gap by requiring that state employees contribute to their own pension and health care benefits. This, despite a call of the house compelling the faithless lawmakers to return to Madison.

Without 20 members present, the Senate cannot take up any budgetary items. Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson called the move “gutless.” He may well have also called it lawless.

The mayhem has also spilled over into Indiana, where Democrats pulled a similar stunt rather than allow a vote on legislation that gives state employees the option of whether or not to pay union dues.

Such is the sorry state of American democracy today, where if a majority cannot be won at the ballot box, lawmakers instead boycott the entire process.

Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee), who fled to Illinois from Wisconsin, has called himself a “refugee”. Except, of course, refugees are actually forced to leave their homes, usually by force or for some act of nature. Coggs, on the other hand, simply left because he wasn’t going to get his way.

That’s not the way a representative system of government based on the rule of law is supposed to operate. It’s the way a schoolyard game operates.

For his part, Governor Walker is warning lawmakers that if they do not return to complete work on the budget, he will be forced to begin issuing layoffs of state employees, starting with 1,500 and ultimately culminating in 10,000 to 12,000 if his budget proposals are not adopted this year.

That is the tradeoff: Either the public sector unions’ excessive benefits packages are reformed and employees are required to pay into, or those employees will simply begin losing their jobs altogether.

Similar tradeoffs are occurring nationally with the new health care law taking effect. Many businesses are reluctant to begin expansion with the employer mandate to provide health insurance to employees.

With unemployment remaining unacceptably high, do the American people really want to risk not finding jobs because hiring became too expensive? Will they risk losing their jobs because they thought they were entitled to greater benefits packages?

That’s the situation Wisconsin and states across the country are faced with as much as $3 trillion in unfunded liabilities to pension and health care retirement systems. So overburdened are these systems, that members of Congress now openly speak of enacting new federal laws that would allow states to declare bankruptcy.

And rather than fix those systems, state lawmakers from Wisconsin and Indiana are hiding under rocks. The only proposals they appear to support are higher taxes, despite the persistently high unemployment. They appear intent on remaining delinquent unless their demands are met.

That is not leadership. It is coercion. Rather than debate their proposals on the merits in a democratic forum, they are engaged in brinksmanship.

Fortunately, there may be a way to for Senate Republicans to proceed in Wisconsin, as ALG’s Wilson noted. “The Wisconsin Senate, of course, could move forward with a quorum of 17 to pursue legislation minus any budget items,” he said.

“They should put a straight right-to-work law on the table, which would give all workers in the state the option of whether they want to join a union or not. They could move it to the floor and have it on the calendar, and then adjourn for a day. The delinquent 14 Senate Democrats would probably come scurrying back rather quickly to try to defeat the measure,” Wilson explained.

In other words, Senate Republicans in Wisconsin need to put proposals unacceptable to their Democrat colleagues forward. “Ultimately, these 14 faithless senators need to get back to work on the budget. If Senate Republicans move aggressively, the ‘Delinquent 14’ can be made to meet their obligations.”

Let us hope Wisconsin Republicans are willing to escalate their efforts on behalf of taxpayers, for we are all Wisconsinites now. We are counting on them to prevail, to provide an example of how, as a nation, we can begin to get our fiscal house back into order.

Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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