Barack Obama’s Illinois roots are showing. How to foot the bill to pay cradle to the grave support to the state’s public sector workers is a dilemma without a political solution, even in the face of fiscal catastrophe. The president is haranguing Washington lawmakers to recreate Illinois’ problem at the federal level by doling out new state bailouts, telling us that “When states struggle, it’s up to Congress to step in and help out.”¹ Is he suggesting that we pay state and local government employees a guaranteed salary based on his belief that the private sector is doing fine and that public sector workers need to catch up?
Who came up with the idea that we owe public sector workers a living with lifetime benefits that can never be taken away? Illinois lawmakers ran away from public pension reform at the end of their spring session after making noises that they would consider the unthinkable, a plan to stop accumulating tens of billions of dollars of pension debt (see: Illinois Proves Destitution Will Be Good for Washington).
The president has also decided to keep his head in the sand about state fiscal crises. He ignores the damage bailouts will do by allowing teachers and other public sector workers to be rehired or kept on the payroll with what amounts to a guaranteed salary as long as federal money holds out. Even Mr. Obama admits the failure of state bailouts when he comes back to the trough for more funding. Short-term fixes allow states to delay making decisions on how to deal with their debt problems, just like Mr. Obama’s delusion about the revenue haul from allowing the Bush tax rates to expire justifies his demands to keep spending.
Arguments for allowing collective bargaining rights for government employees are a smokescreen. The only reason these rights exist is because we were foolish enough to allow state lawmakers to grant them. The president seems to realize this in his “more is better approach” to education, as if he is trying to stack the deck by sheer numbers, or to take the place of a union for states that do not have the public sector clout seen in Illinois or California. When Barack Obama talks about teacher jobs it sounds like he is shopping at a convenience store, buying disposable items in bulk. He speaks of tens of thousands of teacher jobs lost here and there, and 100,000 more teachers we need to hire by 2020. Unions argue that quality is the issue. Why the obsession with big numbers? Is it because unions are losing their grip as states shed unaffordable employees? Has the president adopted the role of overseer for public sector workers, offering to pay a guaranteed salary until our federal tax dollars run out and states budgets collapse because lawmakers were never forced to be fiscally responsible?
The propaganda arm of the Department of Education has been churning out ill-conceived dreck comparing teachers to highly paid professionals (see: Teachers Must Be Told That They Are Not Special). If teachers are worth what Arne Duncan claims they should be paid, the private sector would already be paying those big salaries in its schools. The private sector would laugh at the concept of paying blocks of teachers a federally guaranteed salary with state bailouts, instead of coming up with other ways to bridge budget gaps and make the business of public education affordable.
The president has failed to come to grips with his own argument that he narrowly avoided a depression. An economic meltdown deserves drastic solutions. Paying for public sector workers is less about extending big government and more about finding ways to make sure states will keep employees, especially union workers, on the payroll. Given the grip enjoyed by public employee unions in many states, state bailouts will allow time to restore membership while coming up with new ways to entrench organized labor.
The drive for pension reform expired in the Illinois legislature while the Chicago Teachers Union was whipping up members to vote for a strike. Chicago is the poster child for proving that throwing money at teachers and the school system is not the answer. What are taxpayers across the country to make of news footage of angry, red shirted Chicago teachers chanting for the cameras? They better figure it out. The president is more than willing to pay the salaries of teachers with tax money collected from residents of every state in the union, whether or not they live in states more fiscally responsible than Illinois.