Michael Barone
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Democrats in Washington declare that they will absolutely, positively allow no changes whatever in the nation's unsustainable entitlement programs -- Social Security and Medicare.

But out in the states, politicians of both parties aren't averting their gaze from impending fiscal crises. They are working to change policies that put state governments on an unsustainable trajectory.

The most obvious example was the passage of a right-to-work law last week in Michigan, the birthplace of the United Auto Workers union.

This was retaliation for a failed power grab by both the UAW and public sector unions -- Proposition 2, which would have enshrined collective bargaining in the state constitution.

Michigan voters defeated Prop 2 last month by a 58 to 42 percent margin. It won in the two counties that include the effectively bankrupt cities of Detroit and Flint. It lost in the other 81 counties.

Right-to-work means that no one can be forced to join a union. The law also stops the automatic deduction of union dues from public employees' paychecks -- which is to say, taxpayer funding of the public employee unions that have driven costs and pensions on an unsustainable path.

Gov. Rick Snyder was initially reluctant to push right-to-work. But he saw that neighboring Indiana was attracting new jobs after it passed right-to-work last winter, while Michigan was losing jobs.

Michigan's law is similar to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's law limiting public employee unions' bargaining powers and stopping the automatic flow of taxpayer money to union treasuries. Unions there protested, but Walker prevailed in a June 2012 recall election.

The Michigan and Wisconsin laws were partisan Republican measures, opposed by all local Democrats. Republicans have leverage elsewhere, as well.

They hold the governorships and legislative majorities in 24 states with 52 percent of the nation's population (25 states with 53 percent if you count Nebraska with its nonpartisan single-chamber legislature). They also hold governorships but not legislative majorities in five more states with 6 percent of the nation's population.

In contrast, only 13 states with 30 percent of the nation's people have Democratic governors and legislatures. But even where Democrats are dominant there are stirrings of reform.

Consider Rhode Island, where Democratic state Treasurer Gina Raimondo has worked to limit the state's unsustainable pension obligations. The state pension fund is currently paying out more to retirees than it's taking in from current employees, and instead of getting an 8.25 percent return on investments, it has been getting 2.5 percent.

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Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM