Feb 25, 2011

It ain't about budgets; it's about ideology.

If Gov. Walker's "Budget Repair Bill" were really about repairing the Wisconsin state budget, opponents argue, he would have accepted public-union concessions and dropped the controversial measure severely limiting collective bargaining rights.

Nothing doing, Walker and his supporters retort. Collective bargaining is by nature hostile to balanced budgets. "It costs taxpayers serious money," Walker said during his Feb. 22 televised (and ironically named) fireside chat.

Walker's experience as Milwaukee county executive taught him an important lesson: Stubborn unions armed with collective bargaining prevent righteous conservatives (like Walker) from exercising fiscal responsibility. Now that he's duly elected governor—with duly elected huge Republican margins in the Wisconsin senate and assembly—well, now those union thugs are going to learn what stubborn really means.

But is Walker's hypothesis true? Does collective bargaining as such prevent fiscal responsibility?

Turns out that we can do a pretty good social-science experiment to find out. There are 50 states in the union. Some require collective bargaining for public employees. Some allow it. Some outlaw it. All but six will run deficits in 2011.

Is there a connection? If Walker's hypothesis is true, it's reasonable to expect that a state's fiscal condition would correlate with its public employees' collective-bargaining rights.

From Walker's point of view, here's the hypothesis: On average, states requiring collective-bargaining with public employees will be in worse fiscal condition than states either allowing or outlawing such rights.

Now let's "operationalize" (oooh, I love the language of social science) the experiment. We'll correlate each state's 2011 budget shortfall with each state's collective bargaining laws. If the hypothesis is correct, states outlawing collective bargaining should have lower average deficits than the other states.

I got each state's collective-bargaining laws from James Joyner's Outside the Beltway blog. He got the info from Josh Marshall on TPM. I got each state's 2011 budget shortfall from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. I ran a simple pivot table to get the correlations. Here are the results:

In states where
collective bargaining is
the 2011 budget
deficit averages:

Plus, of the six states with balanced budgets, none outlaws collective bargaining. Three require it; three allow it.

What's the takeaway? Collective bargaining doesn't cost taxpayers serious money in any special way. Which demonstrates that Walker's antipathy to collective bargaining has nothing to do with budgets; it's about ideology.

Walker is no conservative. The first principle of classic conservatism is a respect for a people's customs and a mistrust of a person's abstract schemes. Walker is a radical ideologue. He sees himself as a modern-day Isaiah, calling down the fire of Jehovah on the prophets of Baal.

"This is our moment," Walker said to the prank caller pretending to be billionaire ultra-conservative David Koch. "This is our time to change the course of history."

Hang on, Wisconsinites. You chose the bus. Get ready for the ride.

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