The decision by Ohio voters that collective bargaining for public employees is in their best interest is a shining example of why America embraces democracy. We have the right to make good decisions. We have the right to make bad decisions. We have the right to vote for whom and what we want, regardless of the consequences. Most important, we have the right to be stupid. That is how we ended up with Barack Obama.
Democrats have shielded us from the consequences of our right to be stupid. If a conservative administration had taken the helm in 2009, Washington might have exercised some discretion before bailing out states and big labor’s public sector employees. Instead, with Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid running the show, states did not need to worry that parents would end up supervising classrooms bereft of teachers, that citizens would have to patrol the streets, or put out their own fires. Not only did we hand out billions to keep states afloat, we let the American people know that Uncle Sam would stick around, ready to help, as long as the cash held out. No matter how far states overextended their finances, or what they guaranteed employees, somehow they would manage to get by.
In 2009, Arne Duncan told us about the federal aid going to Ohio schools:
U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced that more than $1 billion is now available for Ohio under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. This funding will lay the foundation for a generation of education reform and help save hundreds of thousands of teaching jobs at risk of state and local budget cuts.1
When the economy failed to improve, Uncle Sam was there in 2010 to help Ohio weather the storm:
U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced that an additional $483,024,288 is now available for Ohio under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. To date, Ohio has received $2,986,873,388 through the Recovery Act.2
With 2011 almost over, and the economy continuing its refusal to respond to Democratic ministrations, the president wanted Ohio to know that passing his jobs bill would mean even more money to prop up the public sector:
Pass this jobs bill, and there will be funding to save the jobs of up to 14,000 Ohio teachers and cops and firefighters. (Applause.)3
Empowering public sector unions is an unlikely remedy for any state running a deficit, and something lawmakers and voters should avoid like the plague, even in good times. Public support for unions in states like Ohio and Wisconsin is confounding, given the tenuous condition of state budgets and the economy, and our growing public sector pension debt. The president’s newest state bailouts are not going to pass, so someone is going to have to foot the bill for public employees, or learn to do without. How do voters think their states will plug budget holes if President Obama’s replacement is a conservative Republican, and Democrats lose their remaining clout in Congress?
Illinois residents paying higher income taxes in 2011 already know the answer to that question. Much of the take from the tax hike was destined for a massive public pension payment. Despite the increase, lllinois’ debt problem is unresolved. The stacks of unpaid bills are growing. This did not prevent the state from passing a new, privatized DREAM Act, or to continue forcing its taxpayers to fund resident tuition breaks for its large illegal immigrant population.
This is America, and that means voters have the right to be stupid. Democrats took away that right by nullifying the consequences of bad decisions. Recovery Act and post-recession bailouts taught states and their residents that someone would step in to pay the tab for their employees, keeping unions happy and services flowing. Republicans can bring back our right to be stupid, with all the responsibility it carries. Perhaps in the ensuing pain we will acquire some measure of wisdom.