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Hey California: Meet Wisconsin

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

It was one giant step for a man, and one giant leap toward fiscal sanity.

But the failed labor union recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was only a beginning. America needs a bunch more Scott Walkers, a whole lot more thoughtful, discerning voters – and we need California voters, in particular, to wake-up.

So California, meet Wisconsin. It’s the state where voters chose a Governor who, despite claims to the contrary, is neither “destroying workers’ rights” nor “killing democracy.” Governor Walker has brought government labor costs in-line with private sector labor costs, and in so doing is saving the state from fiscal collapse. Wisconsin chose wisely – and California, so can you.

I’m emphasizing “the voters” here because statesmen and women don’t operate in a vacuum. We, the people can affirm and encourage elected leaders to do the right thing, or we can encourage our leaders to be reckless and self-serving. In November of 2010 Californians rejected a candidate for Governor who pledged to do much of what Scott Walker has done, and instead elected a Governor who is bought and paid for by labor unions.

The fact that California Governor Jerry Brown has recently succumbed to telling the media “no, we’re not like Greece” should be a serious warning sign. Yet California’s plight could likely be different, had voters there been more like voters in Wisconsin.

It was the fall of 2010, and Democrat Jerry Brown was running against Meg Whitman, a mega-successful business executive and Republican gubernatorial nominee. Whitman had correctly and honestly identified a main source of California’s revenue hemorrhage – the ever-expanding benefits and retirement pensions of government employees – and had campaigned on a promise to “reign-in” such spending.

Brown, on the other hand, pledged to “get honest” with Californians about the state budget fiasco, but also to support “working Californians” (which is code talk for “unionized government workers”), and largely dodged the issue that Ms. Whitman had courageously raised. As Meg’s message began to get traction, the government employee’s unions offered-up all the more cash to Brown’s campaign - and Brown gladly accepted.

By the time the first gubernatorial debate was completed, media attention was mostly focused on aesthetics rather than substantive policy ideas. Jerry was “charming” and “warm” in the debate, and “really connected” with the audience; Meg was “cold” and “distant.” Shortly thereafter, the National Organization of Women endorsed the 72-year old white, male (and perennial government employee) Jerry Brown, over the 53-year old female, accomplished business executive and would-be governor Whitman. On Election Day Brown ended up winning by a 13% margin.

Later in November after the election, several members of the California legislature – a combination of both Republicans and Democrats – enjoyed an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii, funded with “donations” from a variety of public utility companies, and the California prison guards’ union. Not surprisingly, one of the first “accomplishments” of Governor Brown after he took office in 2011 was to negotiate and sign a new prison guard’s union contract which now allows guards to cash in un-used vacation and sick time at their highest rate of pay when they retire.

Governor Brown’s maneuver provided a nice payback to a government employees’ union that had “invested” over $2 million in his campaign. But what is mutually gratifying for Governor Brown and the prison guard’s union is not good for the rest of California- the new union contract added a minimum of an additional $600 million in un-funded liabilities, to a state that at the time was already sinking in nearly $10 billion of government debt.

And there’s more. Despite the state’s debts, and despite class cutbacks and continuous tuition increases at California’s two publicly-funded university systems, the University of California’s “Board of Regents” nonetheless voted $140 million in faculty salary increases. In the California State University system (the “U.C.” and the “CSU” systems operate separately), university presidents recently voted themselves pay raises. And despite his year-and-a-half of warnings about a lack of funding for K-12 education (most of which is unionized in California), Governor Brown’s latest budget nonetheless adds an additional 13% to K-12 expenditures.

Whether it’s spending increases on college faculty, unionized law enforcement officers, road crew workers or public school teachers, Governor Brown’s fiscal priorities all point to the same objective: providing salary and benefits increases to government employees who mostly vote with his Democrat party.

Brown’s proposed means of paying for the increased government spending is much the same as President Obama’s – raise taxes on “rich people.” California has the worst government bond rating in the nation (the S&P is threatening another downgrade), and for the 7th year in a row the Golden State was recently voted by America’s CEO’s to be the most “un-friendly” state for business in the nation. Yet Governor Brown and his party remain undeterred. ?

After years of this same kind of self-serving, vote-purchasing public policy, Wisconsin chose a different course in 2010 and re-affirmed that direction last week. California, you can chose differently, too – but are you awake? And do you care?

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