Gov. Walker definitely has a budget to balance, but I believe his desire to end collective bargaining for unions has very little to do with this, despite his insistence to the contrary (Jon Chait and Kevin Drum just had a good back-and-forth on this). It may possibly be the case that getting rid of the unions would help Wisconsin’s long-term budget situation, though I think that’s debatable and there are obviously other avenues I would choose to pursue first. But it’s a pretty big stretch to say that ending collective bargaining would do anything to close the current year budget gap, since the point of doing so would be to extract the necessary immediate financial concessions — concessions that the unions have already agreed to. And I’m bothered by the fact that Walker has framed this entire debate in terms of the current year’s “crisis,” which I think is pretty clearly being done to purposely mislead.
After I made this point on Twitter, Josh Barro explained to me that while the unions have made the concessions on the state level, that’s not necessarily the case in every locality, where a lot of public employment is actually budgeted. So there might actually be some additional state savings if ending collective bargaining — right now — leads to further concessions on the local level — right now — which frees up some state money away from local aid (at least that’s how I think the logic goes). But can anyone saw with a straight face say that this is what is motivating Gov. Walker?
Perhaps more importantly, does it matter what is motivating him?
To me, I am so bothered by what I perceive as his blatant power play and his bad faith arguments that I am basically unwilling to dig deep on the policy issue — the thinking being that taking him seriously is a sign of respect, and it’s a respect that isn’t going both ways.
But maybe only policy outcomes are what matters? I remember being bothered by Reihan Salam and Will Wilkinson’s musings about the pros and cons of ending birthright citizenship, because although I believe they were being motivated to engage the issue because of their own stated rationales (roughly put, they were concerned that our current policy unfairly disadvantages low-income immigrants who happen to not be from Mexico, among other things), I was concerned that 99% of the conservatives who were pushing the issue were motivated by simple xenophobia. This was enough for me to be concerned about the discussing the policy on the merits at all, as I perceived the motivations behind putting birthright citizenship on the agenda in the first place were so odious.
But is this the correct way to think about this? As a thought experiment, what if Barack Obama had pushed the Affordable Care Act primarily out of a desire to get doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies to support his reelection? Sure, he has a secondary desire to achieve universal health care, as Gov. Walker cares about limiting the growth of public sector pay and benefits. But if we had a crystal ball and knew that Barack Obama had bad intentions and was supporting them with bad-faith arguments, would it or should it change our opinion of ObamaCare as policy?