In last week’s column, I noted that Arizona lawmakers, with help from a right-wing think tank, were pushing union busting legislation more severe than Wisconsin’s. Not surprisingly, as John Nichols reported in The Nation, Arizona Republicans got a little pep talk from Governor Scott Walker himself:
Two days after Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected Governor John Kasich’s anti-labor agenda by a sixty-one to thirty-nine margin in a statewide referendum, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker jetted to Arizona to launch the next front in the national campaign to attack union rights. After meeting with former Vice President Dan Quayle, Walker was whisked over to the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, where he briefed a thousand Arizona conservatives on how they could attack “the big-government union bosses.”
“We need to make big, fundamental, permanent structural changes. It’s why we did what we did in Wisconsin,” declared Walker, who at the annual dinner of the right-wing Goldwater Institute said that compromising with unions was “bogus.” Comparing governors who have been attacking the collective-bargaining rights of public employees with the founders of the American experiment—“just like that group that gathered in Philadelphia”—
Walker told his listeners: “We need to have leaders not just in Wisconsin but here in Arizona…” If anyone missed the point, Walker said:
“Tonight, you might say I’m preaching to the choir with a bunch of fellow conservatives.… I preach to the choir because I want the choir to sing. So tonight I’m asking you to sing. Tell the message in Arizona and all across America that we can do things better” . . .
[U]rged on by Walker, Arizona Republicans are . . . racing to implement a militant anti-labor agenda modeled on legislation enacted last year in Wisconsin—and promoted by national groups such as the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC’s model legislation [which] provides conservative legislators in the states with preapproved bills and resolutions for attacks on collection bargaining in particular and organized labor in general.
And the group has worked closely with Brewer and many Arizona legislators, including recently ousted Arizona Senate President Russell Pierce. Indeed, Brewer began outlining the Arizona plan at an ALEC meeting in December, when she declared her intention to “reform the state’s personnel system” in order to make it easier to hire and fire public employees. That inspired speculation about Brewer wanting to be “the Scott Walker of the West.”
Locals might remember that it was San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio who last spring called for making San Diego “the Wisconsin of the West” by waging relentless war on unions and the public sector.
Now that the Arizona right has taken time off from hating on immigrants, banning books, assaulting ethnic studies, and wagging their fingers in the face of President Obama long enough to jump to the front of the line, it begs the question: with so many right wing politicos seeking to claim the Wisconsin mantle perhaps they should start a waiting list at GOP central? (If they can get their minds off of policing women’s vaginas and excusing domestic violence for a moment).
Fears of wearing out the Wisconsin thing certainly didn’t stop the Republicans in New Hampshire from jumping on the anti-worker bandwagon. There, in the Granite State, the House Labor Committee is taking steps toward putting forward five new anti-labor bills: two “right to work” bills (a lead and a back up bill in case the first fails); a bill to allow employers (rather than employees) to lead decertification drives; a bill that disallows unions from being the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit; a bill that gives the legislature veto power over all municipal contracts; and a bill that puts more health care costs onto workers. Perhaps now New Hampshire can be called the Wisconsin of New England or the Arizona of the East.
The California of California
This just in: somebody in Sacramento had a good idea. Amidst the local, state, and national frenzy to drag public sector workers down off of their gold-plated pedestals by gutting their pensions, a lawmaker actually considered bringing everybody else up instead. As the Sacramento Bee reports:
One day after Republicans sided with Gov. Jerry Brown on public pension reform, Democrats on Thursday said they want millions of Californians to have guaranteed retirement benefits.
Senate Bill 1234, written by Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, would require businesses with five or more employees to enroll them in a new “Personal Pension” defined benefit program or to offer an alternative employer-sponsored plan.
The new system’s investments would be professionally managed by CalPERS or another contracted organization. Employees would contribute about 3 percent of their wages through a payroll deduction, although they could opt out of the plan. Employers could make voluntary contributions into the fund.
The fund would assume much lower investment returns than the 7.75 percent that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System says its investments will generate, de León said. Unlike public pension funds that can pass on their investment shortfalls to taxpayers, private underwriters would assume any losses by the private sector fund.
“It’s a supplement to Social Security. It’s not a panacea,” de León said during a Thursday morning press event with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and other Democratic and labor leaders.
The UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education figures about 62 percent of working Californians – more than 7 million people – have no retirement savings through their employer. If all of them put 3 percent of their wages into a retirement fund, the pot of money would grow to $6.6 billion in the first year, say university researchers.
While hardly revolutionary, it’s good to see that somebody in Sacramento is thinking more about raising people up than dragging them down. Here’s hoping that this kind of practical plan to do something positive about the impending crisis of private sector employees with no retirement savings is just the beginning of a larger discussion about our collective future.
Otherwise, folks like Scott Walker, Jan Brewer, Grover Norquist, Carl DeMaio and all their friends on the libertarian right have a great idea for the 62 percent of working Californians with no retirement savings: die faster poor old losers! Hey, if you don’t have enough money to take care of yourself in your dotage, that’s your problem. Don’t go looking for big government to carry your wrinkled backsides—that might mean the rich and corporations would have to pay more taxes.
As the battle of the ballot initiatives continues and the polling rolls in, the Millionaires Tax continues to lead in the polls, with the most recent Field Poll showing 63% of Californians favoring the MT versus 58% in favor of the Governor’s and only 45% in favor of Molly Munger’s initiative. With the third option effectively dead in the water, the real question is whether the Governor will have the political wisdom to drop his plan and go with the MT which brings in the most money ($6-9.5 billion), is ongoing (rather than 4 years and out with the Governor’s plan), and most likely to pass with no regressive sales tax to drag it down as the campaign ensues. Interestingly, even the Governor’s own polling showed his measure behind.
That’s five straight polls showing the Millionaires Tax as the initiative with the best chance to pass. It’s time to get pragmatic, Jerry. If we really want ongoing funding for schools and vital public services, you should step aside and let the most progressive measure win the day.