Weighing in on the legislative debate in Wisconsin over the right of public employees to join unions and engage in collective bargaining, Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee – speaking in his capacity as President of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference –  issued a forthright defense of workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively. The WCC “Statement Regarding the Rights of Workers and the Value of Unions” begins:

The Church is well aware that difficult economic times call for hard choices and financial responsibility to further the common good… But hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.

The statement reminds Wisconsin legislators that the Church’s traditional teaching defending the right to organize, laid down over a century ago by Leo XIII, was reaffirmed in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate in no uncertain terms:

Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past.

Wisconsin’s Bishops do not express an opinion about the proper level of public employees’ pay, pension benefits or health insurance contributions. They do, however, remind us that the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively is a basic tenet of Catholic social teaching.

Comments

Tom Maher | 2/21/2011 - 2:36pm
Walter Mattingly in #20 has the essential fix on what is going on in Wisconsin. Ir isthe democratic process in high gear.  Wisconsin voters have elected a state governemnt who promised what they are now trying to deliver - a long term correction to Wisconsin indebtedness starting with the current 3.5 billion dollar deficit it has.   Republicans certainly did not promise to single out the rich and then tax them more.  The Republican won hands down becasue majorities abhor tax the rich as a strategy.  The level of taxes is not the problem The risch potentially aret he one who provide urgently sought after private jobs.  Jobs are what we want. As they say "It's the economy stupid"

THe Obama adminsitration's 700 billion stimulus spending programs of two years ago failed to deliver jobs.  And funding more government  failed to stimulate the economy.  We still have high levels of unemploymnet. The only effect of increased is to give ave us the greater hazard of more public debt. 

In the 2010 election in most state you would be unelectable backing an increase in  government spending aprpoach to the economy.  The voters in most plasce in 2010 found run-away government indebtedness and a weak private economy to be the most important problems.  

So Wisconsin voters delivered a very clear voter preferance and choice.  It would be a mistake elected Wisconsin officials to ignore the clear wishes of the voters. 
Anonymous | 2/21/2011 - 8:15pm
I was out taking my wife to her singing group's rehersal and had the radio on.  The governor from Wisconsin was on and was explaining everything and then it hit home.  What this is about is money not for the employee or the state but for the union.  Depending upon salary level, each employee gives between $500 and $1,000 to the union in dues each year and they have almost no say on how that money is used.


Under the new law the employee would have the option not to join the union and give them these dues.   They then could use the money for whatever they want including applying it to medical insurance costs.  The unions are scared to death that they will lose a lot of this money.  That is why they are mobilizing people from all over the country.  It has nothing to do with rights to organize or bargain collectively.  It has to do with just the opposite, imposing a practice on all employees whether they want it or not and getting their dues money.


I understand all the arguments about the necessity to have large numbers in unions in order to bargain for salary and benefits and my guess is that most will choose to remain in a union but it would not be compulsory if this law passes. 
Liam Richardson | 2/21/2011 - 7:02pm
Defrauding workers of wages promised for work already provided is a sin that cries to heaven for justice in Catholic social teaching going back many centuries.
Vince Killoran | 2/21/2011 - 2:49pm
Just to keep Jeff's figure in perspective corporations and business backed groups outspent unions anywhere from 3 to 2 up to 2 to 1.


 I know Cosgrove, Jeff, and the rest of the guys will want the last word but how about-after that-we all take a break and let others join in?
Anonymous | 2/21/2011 - 2:32pm
Mr. Sinyai writes: ''They (the WI bishops) do, however, remind us that the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively is a basic tenet of Catholic social teaching.''

While I accept this as basically accurate with respect to private sector unions, this ignores that nothing re labor unions in Catholic social teaching addresses itself to PUBLIC SECTOR employees, a context all together different from Rerum Novarum & its progeny.  I would like for a support of collective bargaining for public employees to take the following arguments and tell me why they are wrong.  This is taken from a very good piece on National Review (the horror, I know - those schmucks):  [Remember, its just an argument, so tell how the ARGUMENT is wrong (not how the person is greedy, or its all Wall St's fault, etc).]


''Put simply, public employees (even when they are not organized, let alone able to bargain collectively) have some major advantages over their private-sector counterparts. They are guarded by generous civil-service protections—the most significant of which predate public-sector unionism, having been put in place, ironically, to combat the inclination of urban political machines to use the public sector as a powerbase. And most government employees work in non-competitive fields where their employer has a monopoly, so their jobs are not threatened by competitors, and are not dependent on their ability to work efficiently and so keep their employer competitive.
 
When they organize—merely as an interest group, quite apart from formal collective bargaining—they have several more immense advantages. By leveraging their numbers and resources, their organizations can become major players in politics. At election time, public employees can therefore play a large role in choosing their own employers or bosses (by getting certain people elected and not others), which of course no private-sector union can do. At all levels of government today, public-worker unions are among the biggest political donors.
 
When you add collective bargaining to that mix, the unions gain the power to make in private negotiations decisions that should be made in public deliberations—decisions about public priorities and public budgets. And they turn public employees into a formal procedural adversary of the public they serve.''

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/260241/collective-bargaining-public-sector-yuval-levin
Anonymous | 2/21/2011 - 1:52pm
"I do agree that there are spineless legislators but I see their spinelessness in giving in to powerful lobbyists and advocates of tax breaks for the wealthy."

The New York Times reported this past weekend that "Big Labor" had given or spent over $200,000,000 to the DEMOCRATIC Party in the last election.  Just to make clear that's TWO HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS.  They were, the report went on, the largest single contributor in either party.  I assume you don't consider them to be part of that "powerful" cabal of lobbyists and advocates???

Point to me a comparable example of such corruption arguing for tax breaks for the rich?
Anonymous | 2/21/2011 - 12:47pm
I want to thank Mr. Bohan for all his kind words.  Maybe there is no public employee beneift and pesion problem and I was just confused.  Some isolated notes.


The average teacher where I live makes over $100,000 with about 15 years experience.  This is in suburban New York City.  This does not take into account the generous retirement packages they get which cost about $25,000 - $30,000 a year additional per teacher to the state.


Here are a few links I quickly found:


http://boston.com/community/blogs/rock_the_schoolhouse/2011/02/what_does_the_madison_fight_me.html


http://reason.org/news/show/public-sector-private-sector-salary


http://www.caltrade.com/news/uncategorized/state-public-employee-salaries-soaring-under-schwarzenegger/


There was another story about a year ago how Bloomberg raised salares in New York City by about 50% in 8 years but I could not find it and how all these additional costs were coming back to haunt him after the financial crisis.  If I do find it, I will post it on a future discussion.


I would love to see how under paid the public employee salares are especially the teachers and how their pensions and salaries are not driving state budget problems.  I cannot understand why Cuomo is trying to cut back here in New York and why Wisconsin is such an anomaly.
Anonymous | 2/21/2011 - 12:21pm
I don't blame public sector unions; I blame the spineless politicians of both parties who have given away the candy store in unfunded liabilities to public employees.  And to say that public employees should be willing to make certain concessions is not to "attack" them.  The fact remains that big union political contributions are just as corrosive as big corporations.

As a general matter, I believe private sector workers have benefitted from reduced unionization (I have cited before evidence to higher, more financially feasible salaries and benefits in non-unionized car plants here in the Southeast such as Honda, Toyota, BMW, & Mercedes-Benz) and I believe it unseemly for public employees to hold the state hostage over certain matters.  Something about that whole "public servant" notion, you know?  Now, if I felt like every dollar I have willing paid in state or federal taxes were being maximized in the most useful way, I might feel differently.  Teachers' unions, for example, harp about more and more money, yet dig in at even the most benign tweaks to the tenure system, for example, arguing that abolishing the last in, first out rule is an "assault on public education".

But at bottom, I certainly agree with the Post's comment that the factors are many; so why just pick on our favorite targets like Wall St?  What does that have to do with collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin? Again, seems like another conspiracy theory to me, which, while always efficient and convenient, are usually wrong.
Vince Killoran | 2/21/2011 - 12:02pm
We should be paying attention to the extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest, not attacking public employees.

When I wrote that public employees in general cannot strike and must depend on arbitration I should have noted that this is a major concession on the part of labor.  The power to strike is one of the few responses open to workers in the face of employers' substantial arsenal.

Jeff's article from the WASHINGTON POST is interesting.  But, Jeff, it's been a long time since the WP has been anything close to liberal and their regular drumbeat against teachers' unions is baldly polemic.

As for Montgomery County it does seem dysfunctional but even the article's author points out that it is due to a myriad of factors.  In general the fiscal problems states such as Wisconsin, NJ, & Ohio are having has not been "caused" by labor unions.  There has been no sharp changes in the public union collective bargaining patterns in the last several years.  Look instead to the financial meltdown in the housing market and Wall Street's bad behavior.  That has stressed out state budgets by way of reduced tax revenues, sales tax, and increased the need for social services. 

The answer is not to blame unions. That contributes to the "race to the bottom." 
Tom Maher | 2/21/2011 - 11:09am
Mr. Bohan.

Really. Well do tell us what the facts are Mr. Bohan.  You sound like Hillary Cinton on learning about her husband's affair where Hillary declared: "It's a vast right-wing conspiracy." 

Mr. Cosgove or Fox News is not the issue here.  Stairing us in the face is the massive public sector indbtedness accumulating in unsustainable scale at the local, state and federal level.  The voters of Wisconsin in last falls election have a lot to do with what is going on Wisonsin stae buget proces.  It was the Wisconsin voter that voted in Republican majoities to the Wisonsin House of Representative and senate and a new Republican Governor who is actually doing what he promised to do - reduce the Wisconsin Deficits now and in the future.  Wisconsin has a 3.5 billion dollar deficit and a giagantic underfunding of its its state and local public employee pension fund.    at the state and local leve  Rin the Wstate homajoirbuget prary are far more to blame.  How would you fix long-term budget problems of Wisconsin which are very much like many other states?  


 Most Americans have still not gotten the meo that nations in the European Union such as Greece and Ireland borrowed so heavily to support it governemnht deficit spending that they went broke.  Talk about union busting, Irish pensions  and public employees were given 30% cuts force on them by teh austerity budget which are happening all over Europe.  Ireland went from a free spending to severe restictions in a matter of weeks when it could no longer fianace its public debt and had to be bailed out by the European Union. 

Economist onall media not just Fox News are warning the United States that we are in the exact same over-extended credit position as Greece and Ireland but with far more drastic consequences.  For one thing we do not have anyone to bail us out especiall at a 14 trillion dollar level at the national level and trillions at the state level.

So Mr. Bohan how do we deal with our nationwide massive indebtedness without being as you put it "schmucks"?   Give us your schmuckless truths.  The Wisconsin bishops would be enlightened I'm sure. 
Anonymous | 2/21/2011 - 10:59am
I'll break the no links rule to provide some support for mine and Cosgrove's (among others) conservative "schmuck-iness": the following is an editorial from that notoriously right-wing obtuse rag, the Washington Post, cataloguing some of the cost differences between Mongtogmery Country, MD and Fairfax Country, VA - literally a geographic side-by-side comparison.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/29/AR2010052903132.html
Anonymous | 2/21/2011 - 10:49am
As one of his fellow "conservatives", I know you won't take my word for it, but I think regular commentators on this blog whatever their political stripe, would acknowledge that Mr. Cosgrove routinely attempts to back his statements with facts.  Admittedly the "keep the post short" rule has been flaunted sometimes.

It is widely acknowledged that public employee benefit plans (assuming defined benefit plans, etc.) widely outstrip comparative private plans.  Googling the issue brings up different sources, but again, site rules caution against providing links.

And with respect, the only "name-calling" I've read here is in your post calling people who disagree with your point of view "schmucks" (again I always thought liberals were supposed to be tolerant, open-minded people who welcomed and celebrated diversity).
Rick Bohan | 2/21/2011 - 10:08am
Cosgrove has all the requirements for making a good Fox "News" pundit:  Doesn't know much, makes up the rest.  Apart from a distinct antipathy for working class folks, there's not much to be gained from Cosgrove's rants.  Well, some name-calling, perhaps. 

Cosgrove (like his buddies on Faux "News" and across the AM radio dial) feels that something is so because he says it's so...no need to back up one's statements, provide references, point to sources.  And, no, providing one link to one article that the writer admits is likely to be sharply biased doesn't count.

If one accuses public sector workers of having "bloated salaries and benefits", one might be expected to provide some proof.  When one says "stimulus bill of two years ago was an abject failure" one might be expected to be willing to back that up. 

But Cosgrove and his fellow conservatives have learned...just make it up as you go.  Only schmucks are constrained by the facts.
Anonymous | 2/21/2011 - 9:52am
A few thoughts:

In response to a comment above re ''conservatives'' listening to the Bishops.  I have listened and I disagree with their (as usual) pretty timid statement that gives both sides room for justification.  I continue to find it ironically humorous that liberals are always harping about the need for change and reform in Church teaching, usually citing a document like Humane Vitae, less than 50 years old, as Exhibit A; however on their pet issues, they will quote Chapter and Verse from documents over 100s of years old as if the economic situation of labor has remained stagnant.

Traditionally, public sector workers have had NO collective bargaining rights because most of them (until the development of a civil service in the early 20th century) were patronage jobs of the old Political Machines.  Most citizens still resist such broad collective bargaining rights because of the unseemliness of, let's just take a hypothetical, teachers holding the education of children hostage to contract negotiations...oh wait, that's not hypothetical?

This will come as a shocker, but Vince Killoran hit the nail on the head when he wrote: ''In general, public sector unionists can't strike but there are sophisticated arbitration mechanisms in place for many of them.''

It is these incredibly broad arbitration rights that, as I understand it, the Governor objects to primarily.  For example (I have not read the contracts) supposedly teachers have the right to object to the paint color in rooms and invoke their bargaining rights.  As usual, Big Labor sees an opportunity to exert its ever-shrinking muscle on issues that to most working Americans seems trivial.  I suspect this will give liberals and social justice professional protestors some fun, but ni the end a moderate compromise will emerge.  Meanwhile, Professor Obama should have learned the lessons of playing lecturer-in-chief and stay out of Wisconsin's political arguments (or, given his ''success'' on weighing in on previous local controversies, perhaps he should keep sounding off).

We frequently get invocations of the "Common Good" for things such as higher taxes, more government regulation, etc.  I would like someone to look honestly at the MATH facing both Wisconisn and the US Government and tell me how objecting to requiring public employees to contribute (on average) LESS THAN HALF of what their private sector counterparts contribute to their health and pension plans contributes to the "Common Good"?  Again, its pure math, not politics.  But the unions and their political patrons keep fiddling...
Anonymous | 2/20/2011 - 10:22pm
Here is a document on public service unions written about a year ago by the Cato Institute, which is a libertarian organizaion.  As you would expect they do not favor the current situation with public service unions.


http://www.cato.org/pubs/tbb/tbb_61.pdf 
Vince Killoran | 2/20/2011 - 9:19pm
"Maybe for a time, but then things will be corrected.  Nothing in politics is permanent."

I'm not clear what David means-who exactly will "correct" this? THis is cold comfort to employees being robbed their legitimate rights.
Vince Killoran | 2/20/2011 - 9:54am
An interesting conversation but a very important fact is  getting lost: if the Governor gets his way the right of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining will be effectively eliminated.
Anonymous | 2/20/2011 - 9:10am
My comment in #13 was both serious and facetious.  Over the last 10 to 15 years liberal politicians bought peace and support by over hiring in the public sector and offering above competition wages and benefits.  These policies are now coming back to haunt them and other liberal politicians who now have to make a Faustian choice between the public employees who they have bought and other liberal goodies that are no longer affordable.  They thought they could afford both as most of the last 15 years have been good times but those days are temporarily ended.  They really do not care for many of the private citizens unless their vote is necessary.  There has generally been enough that have been bought and the liberal fools who will vote for them no matter what. Unfortunately the real world has a way of showing itself as they have essentially killed the golden goose in their greed.


In California and other states which liberals still control, they are finding that the out of control public payroll and benefits are bankrupting them and preventing them from instituting other strings of liberal goodies.  Much of this could be avoided if the unions gave up their excess compensation they were given over the last 15 years.  But they won't and seniority rules the day as younger workers and teachers get the axe so the greedy ones protected by seniority can enjoy their above average wages and benefits.  As I said they are a heartless bunch and how the Catholic Bishops and any Catholic could defend them boggles the mind.
Tom Maher | 2/20/2011 - 7:40am
My reference to the 1 trillion state pension under funding is from the following Pew Research Report:

The Trillion Dollar Gap
Pew Center on the States
February 18, 2010
Tom Maher | 2/20/2011 - 1:14am
Deaar Dave #15,

Federal employee pension are not likely the problem unless something happens like the  Greece or Irish debtproblem and then everyone is in real big trouble.  There are fewer people in the federal work force relative to the enormous size of the federal budget.  Also federal employees are a small voting block unlike state and local employees such as the teachers union that are very numerous well paid, all over a state and very politically involved at the state level.  The teacher's union alone are a formitable power player that has great impact at a state level.  The states would have to be in financial crisis, as they now are, after years of appeasement politically powerful union group before changes are made..

What folks including the church don't get is the basic assumption of all economic that there is finite resources available which means you definitely can run out of anything if your not real careful.  But state and local politics work against needed limits.  So the state and local government do go into crisis.  Unfortunately state and local pensions are  a hugh hole to fill.  Bailouts are  not possible.

It  is unthinkable  to most Americans that a government can run out of money but they can and do.  The state of California is effectivel insolvent not from lack of revenues but because of wild non-stop spending. California is one of the riches places on the earth but it is also by far the most free-spending.   New York City went bankrupt in 1976. It also was one of the richest places on earth and even had its own income tax.  But it spent itself inot the gound in less than ten years.  But California pension sytem will break the bank.  There really is only a finite amount of money around for states to use.  We are talking insolvency here without the ability to be bailed out.  Good intentions will not produce a pension check if the money was never there to cover the ever-growing pension liability of state and localities. This train has got to be stopped or the entire economy will collapse as it did with the housing crisis.  1 trillion dollars is an enormous shortfall in state and local pension funding.  And ther is no fall back if the pension fund goes broke.
Stephen SCHEWE | 2/19/2011 - 11:53pm
David, re your question at #9, I guess I was thinking the ''other side'' relates more to a management rather than a Republican perspective.  I agree that Megan is objective in her piece, but her business-oriented background informs her analysis.

I agree completely with your comment #15 about keeping promises on pensions.  Public employees (or private for that matter) who are already retired have fulfilled their end of a contract, and the community or the corporations who employed them need to keep their promises.  But in order to do that they have to keep from going bankrupt or into a Greece-like default.  The good news:  we can solve the debt crisis without taking benefits from people who are already retired.  For those of us still in the work force, we can create a sliding scale of impact depending on how many years you have left to save.  I'm 54, for example, and I'd be happy to wait an extra year or two before I'm eligible for social security and Medicare if it means that as a community we agree to other budget cuts, tax increases, closing tax loopholes, etc. that taken together solve the fiscal crisis for the feds and the states.  I would hope that some of the firefighters, police, etc. who are eligible for retirement as early as 50 would be willing to make the same kind of small sacrifice.  To JR's point in #7, there are lots of other policies that can be used to close the financing gap, and we probably need to use them all, both because the problem's big and so that no one group of people bears the whole burden.  If I was 21, for example, I'd be ok entering a system offering lower pension benefits for new government employees or privatized retirement for people my age, because I'd have lots of time to absorb that news and make appropriate career and savings choices.  Presumably, I'd accept these changes more gracefully knowing that the trillions of dollars of pension liabilities and public debt Tom's worried about in #14 won't cripple the future economy where I'll be earning my living.

Having balanced budgets for small businesses and as a parish council member for a church, I have a lot of empathy for Governor Walker.  But when you start reducing employee compensation, you have to make the case that you're thinking about the needs of the whole community (or in the private sector, the competitiveness of your company), not just being anti-union so you can line the pockets of rich people.  You have to be willing to make other cuts and jawbone the business owners and the wealthy into doing their part and dispense with magical thinking (e.g., the Laffer curve).  If you look back at George W.'s first term (by reading the memoirs of his first Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill) or Reagan's first term (remember David Stockman?), they didn't govern with the needs of the whole community in mind.  Among other places, that's where I part company with many Republicans.
Tom Maher | 2/19/2011 - 10:07pm
Public pension funds ( state and local) are currently unfunded by over 1 trillion dollars nationwide according to Pew Research report.  This is a national disaster in the making.  We have a nationwide public employee pension funding problem.

When pension funds run out of money, its retireew no longer get paid their pension. This is about to happen across America in the near future.  

One town in Alabama in 2010  exhausted  its pension fundis and now hundreds of retirees are no longer receiving their pension checks they were supposed to get.

 Public employee pensions committment are a very serious liability that must controlled.  Cutting back pension committements is essential for  states and localities to meet their hugh pension obligations in the near future.  This would definitely apply to Wisconsin as it does for New Jersy , Illinois, California and most other states that have over-committed pension systems. 

The need is urgent to address this problem immea?diately as the Wisconsin Governor is doing. ?? 
Anonymous | 2/19/2011 - 10:02pm
If one is for social justice, then all Catholics and the Bishops should come down hard on the public employee unions and their bloated salaries and benefits.  These workers are draining nearly every state in the country of needed revenues while there is high unemployment in most of the country and people with much lesser salaries are paying their extremely generous wages.


So if the bishops are for social justice, then let them start going after all the municipal and state employee unions to reduce their salaries and benefits so the rest of the society can have a chance to survive.  The stimulus bill of two years ago was an abject failure, to use an expression, that mainly went to pay the states so they could keep the high salaries of public employees.  Now the states are not getting this money and are responding with massive cuts and layoffs because there is no sugar daddy handing out billion dollar checks anymore.  


In New Jersey, Christie told the unions that Corzine took all the money from the stimulus and spent in right away so they could keep their high salaries and benefits.  Here in New York they are firing 20,000 teachers as the current unions seek raises for those who have seniority.  They are eating their own so they can live in extreme comfort.  All would be solved if they cut back on their generous raisses of the last 10 years.  How can anyone have sympathy for public employees when they are sucking the country dry.
Anonymous | 2/19/2011 - 9:45pm
"God will remember which side you were on."

No need to demonize your political opponets by declaring that "God is on our side."

As for social justice, allowing the unions to bankrupt the statehouses via their lavish benefits and pay does not look like justice by any stretch of the imagination.  Both the greed of corporations (republicans) and/or of monopolistic unions (democrats) is against Catholic teaching.

PJ Johnston | 2/19/2011 - 8:01pm
It's COLD here in Madison.  I'm glad the bishops have gone on record with something that warms our day!  If the anti-union movement succeeds, there will be no chance of the Church's teachings about social justice being implemented in the US.  We already have more income inequality than at any point since the early 1930s, and every proposal about how to refocus the nation's budgets priorities from either party targets the poor and the working classes for sacrifice, not the wealthy.  Unless the people take to the streets, all the gains of 1930s labor and the New Deal will be undone.  This is the most important social, political, economic, and theological issue in the United States today.  God will remember which side you were on.
Stanley Kopacz | 2/19/2011 - 7:14pm
What teachers and civil employees should make is one thing.  The right to unionize and collectively bargain is another.  Perhaps there's a better alternative to the adversarial relationship of capital and labor, or in this case state government and labor, but distribution of power is healthier for a democracy than monolithic power.  At this moment in our history, capital has the upper hand, knows it, and is reaching for total conquest.  And one strategy is to set segments of people against one another.  The goal is to set the greatly weakened private worker union membership against the still robust public worker unions.  Divide and conquer, a cliche but very effective.
Anonymous | 2/19/2011 - 7:03pm
Just to clarify something about misconceptions on the surplus budget of 1999-2000.  It disappeared the following year as the country went into recession and then the economy was further hit by 9/11.  There was nothing sustainable in the budget surpluses given the reality of the collapse of the Dot Com bubble and 9/11.


The reason for the surpluses had nothing to do with tax increases.  In fact it was a tax reduction in capital gains that fueled a large increase in tax revenue in 1998-2000.  Another instance where tax cuts actually provide increases in the amount of taxes collected.  Also there were two factors that held down federal spending in the late 1990's.  These were the Republican congress takeover in 1995 which limited federal spending in general.  Another very specific cut back was a reduction in military spending, the so called peace dividend.  The final factor that led to a surplus was the internet bubble that was the result of thousands of start up companies that was fueled by large amounts of investment.  Sort of a perfect storm: low government spending, lower taxes and large amounts of investment.
Stephen SCHEWE | 2/19/2011 - 4:32pm
Just to clarify, Governor Walker wants to take away public sector unions' rights to collectively bargain on benefits and to limit collective bargaining on wage increases to the annual increase in the consumer price index.

Megan McArdle has a good post on the other side of the argument here:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/02/showdown-in-wisconsin/71450/

According to a report on the Lehrer Newshour last night, private sector workers currently pay 32% of their own pension benefits, vs. 6% paid by public sector workers.  If the Republicans get their messaging right, that's the point of vulnerability for labor.  If I was a union leader in Wisconsin or one of the other states where this battle will take place, I'd be pointing out other places where the state budgets could be cut (or taxes raised) so everybody gets to share in the pain of balancing the budget and funding the long-term liabilities.

This is a precursor to the argument we need to have at the federal level as well.  Medicare, Medicaid, and social security are the equivalent of the unfunded pension benefit liabilities they're fighting about in Wisconsin (although it should also be pointed out that social security is fully funded, and the surplus has been used to fund the general operating deficit).  Defense has been the other sacred cow.  The Bishops are absolutely right that public debt, either state or federal, shouldn't be funded on the backs of the poor or labor.  But it does need to get funded.  The Simpson Bowles report provides a good starting point at the Federal level.

As a country, we've done this before:  the Tax Reform Act of 1986; TEFRA in 1990; and Clinton's tax bill in 1993 (passed with no Republican votes) paved the way.  The Federal government achieved a budget surplus by 2000 and began to reduce the debt.  There's no reason why we can't do it again.
Vince Killoran | 2/19/2011 - 2:51pm
I take your point about $54 million-but the Governor's protrayal of state finances, the decisions he has made regarding federal funds, and his unwillingness to engage with anything less than the "nuclear option" is shameful.

In general, public sector unionists can't strike but there are sophisticated arbitration mechanisms in place for many of them.
Stephen O'Brien | 2/19/2011 - 2:18pm
Thank you, Archbishop Listecki and the other bishops of Wisconsin!  I hope that Catholics who still regard themselves as ''conservatives'' will listen to you.

Here is another papal statement that the archbishop could have invoked:

''It is unfortunately true that the manner of acting in certain Catholic circles has done much to shake the faith of the working-classes in the religion of Jesus Christ.  These groups have refused to understand that Christian charity demands the recognition of certain rights due to the workingman, which the Church has explicitly acknowledged.''  (Pope Pius XI, encyclical Divini Redemptoris, section 50)
Vince Killoran | 2/19/2011 - 2:13pm
A few important things to note about the Wisconsin situation:

The state budget is currently in $54 million surplus.

The budget may get worse but, hey, the Gov. passed up $800 million in federal money for high speed rail and gave the wealthy a tax break of $117 million.

The unions have agreed to negotiate on health care and retirement cuts but Gov. Walker has not interest in this.

This is about busting up unions and thwarting the rights of public workers.  And to pretend otherwise is downright dishonest-conservatives have been planning this for a long time and have not been coy about it (until now!).
Anonymous | 2/21/2011 - 3:44pm
Facts, facts, facts.  How 'bout we just let facts be the last word?

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303339504575566481761790288.html
Vince Killoran | 2/21/2011 - 12:47pm
Jeff:

To respond to your last set of questions the origins of the crisis lies in Wall Street and mortage debacle.  Less tax $$ etc.  That explanation is far from a conspiracy theory (stories about Obama's birth certificate are however).  BTW, the high wages for non-union auto workers is an example of what industrial relations experts call "union threat model."

Public sector unions ARE willing to consider concessions.  Wisconsin's governor is not interested in anything less than the evisceration of public sector unionism.

I do agree that there are spineless legislators but I see their spinelessness in giving in to powerful lobbyists and advocates of tax breaks for the wealthy.

Not very Christian behavior is it?
parkes revan | 2/20/2011 - 1:06am

If you currently have pre-existing conditions like me that have prevented you from being able to qualify for health insurance for at least six months you will have coverage options under new health care. Check "Wise Health Insurance" to find how to get quality insurance for dollars.