Scott Walker vs. Jerry Brown

June 3, 2012

By Brian Calle

Californians know a thing or two about recalls.

Only two state governors in U.S. history have been removed from office via recall; the first was North Dakota Gov. Lynn J. Frazier in 1921. Of course, the second was California’s Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003.

Public-sector unions in Wisconsin — with their national counterparts cheering them on — hope Tuesday to make Gov. Scott Walker the third governor recalled from office because he dared to challenge union power and influence in state governance.

But compare Walker with California Gov. Jerry Brown — and contrast Wisconsin’s progress since Walker enacted his union-bucking policies with California’s continued decline under Brown’s union-friendly leadership, and you see two different outcomes.

Walker and Brown, who both took office on the same day, Jan. 3, 2011, faced tremendous budget deficits and squawking public employee unions demanding higher taxes. Brown obliged; Walker would not.

Faced with a $3.6 billion deficit, Walker lowered taxes — freezing property taxes and bringing down school property taxes. He also painted a realistic and honest budget picture for his constituents and pushed for painful but necessary reforms that cut collective bargaining rights for government unions and created more competition, like allowing private vendors to bid on health insurance contracts for school districts, which reduced costs.

Seventeen months later, Wisconsin is projected to have a $154 million surplus by the summer of 2013. And, the Wisconsin-based MacIver Institute reported that Walker’s reforms have saved taxpayers $1 billion.

In California, Gov. Brown, returning to the post he left in 1983, sided with unions from day one. Early on, he appointed a California Teachers Association lobbyist, Patricia Rucker, to the state Board of Education. He also presented Californians with an unrealistic budget that projected far more state revenue than what eventually came in.

Partially as a result of such budgeting gimmickry, the state’s projected $9 billion budget shortfall has ballooned to $17 billion.

Brown’s plan to close the gap is to convince voters in November to inflict higher taxes on themselves, an approach blessed by unions. Should his tax increases pass, they would raise only about $8.5 billion, a far cry from the $17 billion needed to close the budget hole. And that means California will continue on the path of dysfunctional budgeting and sidestepping meaningful reform.

Unlike Walker, Brown has yet to challenge the stranglehold that public employee unions have in the state — if anything, he has emboldened them. That is one of the reasons he prefers seeking new taxes to making deeper spending cuts or expending political capital on reforming unsustainable public-employee pensions.

Also, unions had been a pillar of Brown’s political career for decades. They helped get him elected again to the governorship in 2010. Early in his first administration, Brown signed the Rodda Act in 1975, which bestowed collective bargaining rights on California public school teachers.

Walker in many ways is the antithesis of Brown.

As Douglas Belkin and Kris Maher wrote for the Wall Street Journal: “Public-employee unions in Wisconsin have experienced a dramatic drop in membership – by more than half for the second-biggest union — since a law championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker sharply curtailed their ability to bargain over wages and working conditions.” Specifically, Walker stopped the practice of automatically withholding union dues from the paychecks of employees — the main source of funds for union political operations.

“Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — the state’s second-largest public-sector union after the National Education Association, which represents teachers — fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011,” Belkin and Maher reported.

Examining Brown and Walker’s records, one might argue the recall efforts ought to focus on the former, rather than the latter, as the California governor continues to preside and perhaps enable the Golden State’s fiscal calamity.

Walker’s day of reckoning comes Tuesday, and, fortunately, the latest-available polling data, including a poll from Marquette University, indicated he would prevail, with about 52 percent support.

Brown’s day of reckoning will come in November, when votes are cast on his tax increase ballot measure.

What happens in Wisconsin in a couple days will have significant repercussions for those hoping, eventually, for similar reforms in the Golden State. If Walker keeps his job, other governors, like Brown, well could find themselves with more leverage with their unions. If Walker is recalled, unions nationwide will be emboldened.

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