Wisconsin update: More to come later today

My friends in Madison say they've been told that the Capitol Building will be cleared of protesters today around 4:00 pm. Passive resistance—"Gandhi-style"—is planned. It's my hope that the protests will remain as peaceful and spirited as they've been so far, and that the people tasked with removing protesters will respond to that peacefulness. In the meantime, check out this Forbes article debunking one of the biggest myths to come out of this situation. The truth: Wisconsin public employees pay for their own retirement plans.


  1. UPDATE: Since this post was published earlier today, many commenters have made the point that, while it is true that it is state employees’ own money that funds the pension plan, when the pension plan comes up short it is up to the taxpayer to make up the difference.

    Let’s be honest… most state union member contracts were negotiated during a period where the economic outlook was much brighter and virtually all state and federal pension funds are going to need to be funded by taxpayers, or renegotiated at some point.

    1. So your theory is that, if all the companies who offer a “buy one, get one free” deal discovered that, really, those deals hurt their bottom line a lot more than they thought they would, you should have to pay them extra, because it was your fault for accepting their bad deal?


    2. I am not sure you can blame the “…period when the economic outlook was brighter…” Private sector unions negotiated using collective bargaining during those same periods and did not receive the same guaranteed payouts. What is the difference? Maybe public sector collective bargaining is somehow fundamentally different from private sector collective bargaining?

      1. Well, it may well be easier for private companies to switch to a primarily or totally non-union workforce, and there’s the fact that private companies have a bottom line to worry about: if they just aren’t selling enough products and services to pay the pensions at a fair rate, the unions haven’t got much scope to argue. Public sector doesn’t go bust, and it’s not the workers’ fault the government won’t raise taxes, axe its pet projects and subsidies, or actually tax big business properly, so why should they settle for second-rate healthcare and retirement provisions.

      2. Maybe public sector collective bargaining is somehow fundamentally different from private sector collective bargaining?

        Well, you see, it’s because they steal money from the taxpayers. Literally, right from their pockets, I mean. Some geology teacher snatched a fiver out of my hand the other day when I was trying to buy a coffee.

      3. Maybe public sector collective bargaining is somehow fundamentally different from private sector collective bargaining?

        Well, unions were created to protect workers from corporations who are only interested in the bottom line and would exploit them otherwise. Workers aren’t supposed to need protection from the government because fundamentally, the government should not try to exploit them.

    3. And furthering your honesty, in our own state, ~100,000 FTE State employees burn through ~$500,000,000 in salaries every month, that’s $65,000+ salary AVERAGE, in a State where overall average salaries (including .gov) are only $28,200. That’s *250% higher*, yet the .gov shriek every time their COLA is pushed below +3%, and here I’m working for what I got paid back in 1985 with the crash, and getting only 21 hours a week, plus Basic Health. Pension? Ha! Most of the .gov drones formerly regulating construction and environment have been flipping pencils for two full years now!! What do you need a full A/E capital planning arm, if there’s no capital budget! Know’m sayin’? They just bump up the gas tax, and belch out of the lobby at 11:30 on their way to an hour food fet.

    4. or renegotiated at some point.

      Which will work out well for them if Walker eliminates their ability to negotiate

      The unions already agreed to concessions from the getgo, BTW. This isn’t about state employees refusing to do what’s necessary to help WI fiscal woes. It’s about eliminating unions, period.

  2. While contracts might have been negotiated during “sunnier” economic times, those contracts typically only run for three years- and the economic meltdown didn’t happen yesterday. I find it pretty unlikely that there’s a full three-year contract hanging out in front of the state- why try to force the change now?
    Also, why only attack *some* of the unions?
    Oh, right. Just attack the unions that didn’t back you in the last election. That makes sense.
    And on top of that, if you read a bit deeper, you find that the shortfalls of the pension plans (that you point out need to be covered by the taxpayers) are primarily due to the state ignoring the advice of IT’S OWN ACTUARIES.
    How is the union to blame for that?

  3. I was in Madison on Friday for business (from the UK), and had the privilege of walking around in the Capitol building and chatting to some of the protesters. The mood was very chilled and peaceful, both among the protesters, and the local and state police who were there. I even heard several pro-protest comments from some of the law enforcement.

    As for the actual argument, it’s clearly not about money. (all the groups protesting have agreed to the financial changes). The governor just wants to bust the unions, which was made clear by a prank call a local DJ made to him pretending to be the billionaire oil fat-cat that bank rolls the governor.

  4. When was “today”? and/or could we have a “Posted on 9:06 EST Sunday 27 February 2011” added to the postings? we are all geeks here y’know. (well, except that guy, over there…)

  5. “How is the union to blame for that?” — Unions are always to blame, don’t you know that? Unions are liberal Islamofascists who want to force you to have gay abortions and impose Shania Law and take away your wimmens.

  6. Can’t we just make class sized larger 30:1, 50:1, 100:1, 200:1 ratio or 1000:1 like first year University classes.

  7. “… when the pension plan comes up short it is up to the taxpayer to make up the difference.”

    Teachers are taxpayers, too. Public workers in general pay taxes.

  8. No. The pension plan is paid entirely from taxpayer funds (public funds). It is the deferred compensation plan, which is OPTIONAL, that is employee-funded. It is extraordinarily misleading to even leave an impression that the employees fund their own pension. I should know. I have a state-funded pension, but also participate in my own deferred comp plan.

  9. Taxpayers contribute nothing to public employee pensions, says Ungar. Public employee pensions are deferred compensation, says Johnston.

    Where does the money for compensating public employees come from? Oh, right: taxpayers, pretty much by definition.

    1. If you want them to take a pay cut, say so. The money for these pensions comes out of their pay checks, it’s not some extra gift. They’ve already taken pay cuts, and already receive much less than similarly qualified workers in the private sector. The whole reason this article was written is the Right trying to sell the idea that pensions aren’t deferred payment.

    2. I’m confused, are you saying that public workers should not be payed? Cause that’s what it sounds like you are saying.
      Or maybe you’re implying that you don’t need public workers?

  10. “Taxpayers.” Do all these people somehow think that state employees don’t have to pay taxes? It’s actually somewhat recursive, in that yes, state employees DO pay taxes, some of which go back into the kitty to pay our salaries.

    Look at the following article. Even as a state employee, I also pay more taxes than BoA.

    1. NONE of the Mil.Gov elbowing up to the mimosa bar at our 700 Club Fed overseas bases pay any US income taxes, they are ‘expatriate’ getting salaries, all expense paid housing, free food at the steak and lobster bar, full benefits and a life pension. I’ve known ones making six figures, tax free, who got THREE annual paid vacations with paid airfare anywhere in the world, and remember, THEY DON’T PAY ANY US TAXES!!! 100% BANKED, FROM YOUR WALLET TO THEIR POCKET!

  11. I’m a little taken aback, but only a little surprised that everyone commenting on this issue (on every forum that I’ve read) are arguing semantics and not the well understood foundation of the issue. Everyone understands. But still they comment time and time again that the “taxpayers” are or are not “paying” the pensions.

    Let’s agree that:
    1. The taxpaying citizens of the U.S. pay taxes that are eventually used to pay state and federal worker salaries. In many cases, such as state universities, there are also other forms of income generated by the workers that contribute to their salaries. We can all agree to this (I hope. If not, please move permanently to whatever fantasy land you are getting your information from).
    2. State and federal workers earn that money. Once they do the work, that money is theirs.
    3. The state workers in question pay into their pensions out of their own salaries. The taxpayers have contributed to their salaries, true, _but they are in no way paying twice, or contributing additional funds to the state and federal workers’ pensions besides the agreed upon salaries of the workers_*. This is where the semantics come in. Let’s stop arguing semantics and talk about the actual issue!
    *4. In some cases the pension funds do not cover the amount owed to pensioners. In these cases, the difference is made up by taxpayers. This is something to talk about – in the cases cited in the above article, the deficit was a result of mismanagement by the state. Not a lot of info is given.

    These decisions are not a game. It’s not about rooting for your team, or winning hollow victories by any means necessary. Union bargaining, corporate control of wealth and policy, shutting down low income women’s health care because of the possibility of abortion: these are real issues that affect me, my family, the people and the culture I love.

    If we want to discuss it, we need to grow up and discuss it like adults.

    1. People in general?

      I think it’s (some) Americans who get so weird about taxes. One, cuz they’re members of the most self-ish culture on earth, and two, cuz they’ve been hornswaggled into thinking Big Gubmint is the main source of their problems, by the kleptocrats who actually are the main source of their problems.

  12. Would any boingers choose to loan half of their income to either their current employer or their state or local government in return for a promise to pay you back in 30 or 40 years?

    Would it affect your decision if you knew that the recipient of your loan was flagrantly ignoring standard accounting principles in handling their current debts?

    I believe teachers should be well-paid in current dollars not bullshit future dollars.

  13. HAHAHAHA!!

    People think that Republicans actually care about public education and want to fix it!


  14. >>Workers aren’t supposed to need protection from the government because fundamentally, the government should not try to exploit them.

    Fundamentally, neither should their employers. And yet…

    If anything, public employees need unions at least as much as private sector employees, if only because at least the corporations can’t (directly) just create bullshit laws to illegalize their organizing activities.

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