WASHINGTON -- Thomas Jefferson said that a revolution now and then is a good thing, and that is what's happening in states around the country that are dramatically cutting their budgets.
Actually, stage one of this grassroots revolution was fought last November in the midterm elections when Republicans won control of the House, strengthened their numbers in the Senate, elected a lot of governors in once-Democratic strongholds and took over a bunch of state legislatures, too.
The rallying cry of "Don't tread on me" was replaced with "End tax, spend and borrow" government, and we're seeing the results of this huge power shift in state capitols, where elected officials are faithfully carrying out the demands of the people.
Not only is spending being cut from Wisconsin to New York, but rigged labor laws are being challenged and changed to curtail collective union bargaining power over costly, ever-increasing pay and benefits that have fueled higher deficits, taxes and deepening debt.
While the major part of the revolution was fought and won last fall, it really began in the off-year election of 2009 in heavily Democratic New Jersey. That's where Republican Chris Christie a beefy, blunt-talking, former U.S. prosecutor who has put corrupt lawmakers from both parties behind bars, won the governorship on a no-more-Mr.-Nice=y, anti-tax-and=end agenda.
He faced a huge fiscal challenge. Under the Democrats' long tax and spend reign, New Jersey taxpayers had the highest state and local tax burden in the country -- gobbling up 12.2 percent of their income in fiscal 2009, according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation.
Christie went toe-to-toe with his state's long-entrenched political power structure, including its powerful labor unions, and won budget-cutting concessions, becoming a heroic role model for governors around the country and a possible presidential challenger in the future.
This year he is proposing that unionized government employees kick in more of what they pay for health insurance as part of a plan to reduce property taxes that are among the highest in the country.What started in New Jersey -- a budget battle that continues there -- has spread to Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin, where GOP Gov. Scott Walker is also cutting spending and even some taxes to boost economic growth and job creation. And he is also taking on the labor unions, asking government workers to pay a fair share of their health insurance premiums and pension contributions, just as workers do in the private sector.
But he is also seeking to restrict the union's collective-bargaining powers in a number of areas, though not including pay, to keep the lid on future costs.
Christie has been on the phone to several governors, urging them to stand firm against powerful labor union bosses and praising their efforts to curb sweeping collective negotiating powers, while championing ordinary working people who must struggle to foot the bill for health and retirement state benefits that many of them can't afford.
"In Wisconsin and Ohio, they have decided there can no longer be two classes of citizens: one that receives the rich health and pension benefits, and the rest who are left to pay for them," he said this week.
Christie points out what you do not hear reported on the nightly news shows; other major states, like New York, are moving to balance their budgets, in large part by bringing public employee pay and benefits more in line with private sector workers.
"These ideas are not red or blue. They are the black and white of truth," Christie says.
Back in Wisconsin, Gov. Walker faces a firestorm of labor union protests at the state capitol, but shows no sign of backing down. If anything, he is digging in for a long siege after Democrat lawmakers fled the state to deny GOP leaders the quorum needed to take up the governor's budget.
The governor and the GOP state legislators were elected by the people to carry out their wishes to sharply cut spending, balance the budget and reduce the state debt. But 14 Senate Democrats left the state in an attempt to bring democracy to a halt in the Senate, where the governor has the votes to pass his bill. In other words, they are saying, "the election be damned."
But it isn't just Republican governors who are calling for sweeping budget reforms. Democrats like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is calling for reductions in spending, debt and taxes that would also include changes in state employee costs for pension and health care benefits.
The Tax Foundation says New York has the second highest state and local tax burden, at 12 percent, and Gov. Cuomo has just declared that his state is "functionally bankrupt." Why? Cuomo says, "The state of New York spends too much money. It is that blunt and it is that simple."