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Intending Your Unintended Consequences

March 3, 2011

What do you do when you know that severe budget cuts are coming down the pike?  Well, in some areas you decide to exacerbate them by guaranteeing non-essential spending and hoping that nobody notices.  Witness “The People’s Republic of” Wisconson:

Three days after the governor introduced his budget, the Milwaukee Area Technical College ratified a new three-year contract that preserves no-cost pensions and contains no layoffs for its teachers (average pay: $95,000.) Union leaders called an emergency meeting at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday night to vote on their new contract — yet their president said that had “nothing to do” with Walker’s budget-repair bill.

Also before Walker took office, the Milwaukee Public School board quickly adopted a four-year teacher contract that runs through 2013. It contains pay increases of 2.5 to 3 percent, and requires teachers to begin contributing to their health insurance for the first time — although in amounts well short of what Walker is proposing (1 percent of salary for single coverage, 2 percent for family). The contract also extends health benefits to domestic partners, which will offset a good portion of the $50 million in savings the district expects to realize from the teachers’ contributions.

For other school districts that ram through generous contracts, the results could be disastrous: Walker just announced a budget that reduces state aid to local school districts by $834 million; much of that cut was going to be offset by teachers’ increased benefit contributions, but districts that capitulate to their teachers won’t have that option. Instead of having a full complement of teachers paying slightly more for their benefits, they will have fewer teachers, but teachers with jewel-encrusted retirement and health packages. Then they will blame Scott Walker for the massive layoffs their districts will see.

They’ll likely get away with that latter part about blaming the Republicans and Governor Walker.  They can claim that they had an existing contract in place, and now they can’t re-negotiate or change.  And then the budget cuts will hit, and people will lose jobs.  And more importantly, kids will lose a variety of teachers and programs, while other teachers keep a guaranteed windfall.

For the most part, the school districts/cities and the unions are all in agreement on the benefit packages, and they’ve rushed to stick it to the budget before they don’t have that option.  Obviously, it’s not going to play out this way in the press.

So here you have a group that knows the “unintended” consequences of its actions, and just assumes that the loss they’re going to take will be made up elsewhere.  I wonder how many of the discussions included comments to the effect that the federal government would be sure to bail out the districts if the cuts got too painful?  On that, there might be no chance.  With the Republicans running the house, at least some of the budget process is going to stall on expensive new bailouts, and the losers are the kids and parents who thought they’d get a decent public education.

Slightly updated: But at leats Ohio figured it out faster.  So Hot Air reports

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