Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Here's a slightly different take on what happened in Wisconsin...

Voters don't want to give up anything they think they're getting. They prefer that 'someone else' pay the price. When faced with budget deficits, they don't want their taxes to go up and they don't want cuts in the services they're getting. They want someone else's taxes to go up and/or someone else's benefits to be cut.

Up to now, the 'someone else' voters looked to were the more successful members of society. Voters were a sucker for (liberal) claims that raising taxes on businesses and the so-called rich would make up whatever deficit the state was facing. And up to now, public workers have been able to fend off attempts to cut government spending by making voters afraid that any such cuts would result in fewer police and firemen, overcrowded classes in schools, libraries being closed, longer lines at the DMV, potholes not being repaired and so on.

The beauty of Walker and his reform package was that he (1) was able to convince voters that raising taxes would hurt the state more than it helped, and (2) he didn't try cutting gross government spending on constituent services. He didn't attempt to cut either the number of government workers or the gross amount of their compensation. Instead, he targeted their net pay by increasing the amount of money state workers would have to pay for health insurance and pensions. Put another way, Walker didn't try to balance the budget by cutting from the top, but rather from the bottom. He also made a point of making sure voters knew that government workers had a pretty sweet deal, both in absolute terms and especially in comparison to wages and benefits of those working in the private sector. And just as liberals have been able to claim that all would be well if only the rich gave up some of the 'excess' money in their pockets, Walker was able to convince a majority of Wisconsin voters that all would be well if only state government workers gave up a bit of the 'excess' money they were getting.

And this presents the GOP with an opportunity.   Yesterday's results show that voters are willing to target the money spent on public workers... but only as long they don't think doing so would result in the cuts in services I described a couple of paragraphs earlier. The GOP needs to target the pocketbooks and wallets of government workers in its attempts to reduce the nation's deficits. But not by targeting government workers as lazy or unneeded... but rather by lowering their effective net pay to something closer to private sector workers.