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0738, 05 Dec 23

Unions sue to overturn Wisconsin’s 2011 Act 10

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I thought we were done debating Act 10, but here we are…

A group of unions have filed suit demanding that Wisconsin’s 2011 Act 10 be thrown out. They argue that the law is unconstitutional because it discriminates between public safety government employees and general government employees. Given that neither public safety government employees nor general government employees constitute a protected class in the state Constitution or in law, the case should be thrown out on its face, but it is probable that this is the beginning of the end of Act 10.


Since it has been well over a decade since Act 10 was passed, it is worth refreshing our collective memories about it. In 2010, Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle had declined to run for reelection after a series of scandals and gross mismanagement of the budget. The state was facing a massive $3.6 billion structural deficit. When Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow legislative Republicans were swept into office on a wave of discontent, they were immediately confronted with fixing the deficit. Act 10 began in a special session in early 2011 to fix the Democrats’ budget deficit. A structural budget deficit required a structural repair. At the time, roughly half of the $28.3 billion general fund budget (it was $44.4 billion in the most recent budget — up 57% — but that is for another column) was entitlements. Pension costs ate up 13%, shared revenue and K-12 spending was 15%, and all other state needs (universities, prisons, natural resources, etc.) were squeezed into the remaining 22%. Act 10 was designed to address the structural budget by restructuring the pension and local government parts of the state budget.


The problem was that government unions had a stranglehold on that spending. In the days before Act 10, the powerful government unions organized to elect local school board members and other local elected officials. When it came to bargain for government employees, everything was on the table and the union officials were usually negotiating with people they helped elect. The taxpayers were not represented.




It worked. The budget was repaired and the tremendous budgeting that Republicans did throughout the 2010s led to the $7 billion budget surplus that politicians are arguing about today. It all started with Act 10.


Act 10 has also led to incredible savings for Wisconsin’s taxpayers. According to the MacIver Institute, which has been tracking the impact of Act 10 since it was passed, the cumulative savings stemming from Act 10 for Wisconsin’s taxpayers as of March of this year is $16.8 billion. Put another way, Wisconsin’s high cost of government would have been $16.8 billion more taxing had Act 10 never been passed.


Furthermore, the government employees who most opposed Act 10 have been voting with their feet. According to the Wisconsin Policy Institute, of the 983 public-sector unions in Wisconsin at the time of Act 10’s passage, only 318 successfully recertified and were still bargaining for employees as of 2021. Teachers unions are still the most active with 56.2% of them still active. At the other end of the spectrum, only 3.4% of county employee unions are still active. Government employees have been clear. The vast majority of them reject unionization just as most other Wisconsin workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 9.3% of Wisconsin’s workers — including government workers — were unionized in 2021.


That’s the rub.


Follow the money.


The unions suing over Act 10 have been decimated by the law because it allows workers to choose. The unions want to return to the bad old days when unions existed in perpetuity and government workers were forced to be members and pay dues. The unions were also able to shake down taxpayers for even more money like when the state teachers union founded a health insurance company and forced school districts to use it. All of that stopped with Act 10 and the river of taxpayer money that flowed into union coffers slowed to a babbling brook.


Despite the fact that Act 10 was litigated multiple times and ruled legal and constitutional every single time, the unions are suing again 12 years after Act 10 passed into law. Why? Because they and their Democrat vassals managed to elect a leftist activist majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The unions and the Democrats are looking to get a return on their investment and reinvigorate the government unions by turning the taxpayer spigot back on full.


0738, 05 December 2023


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