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MN/WI, Dayton/Walker: A tale of two states

He was born into wealth and privilege. He graduated from Yale and married a Rockefeller. In his last job, he spent $12 million of the family fortune to get elected as a U.S. senator. He was called by a respected magazine "one of the worst senators in America." He is Mark Dayton, Minnesota governor and champion of the public-employee unions that donated so heavily to his campaign and recount efforts.

He grew up in a very modest home where his father was a preacher. He is the first Wisconsin governor in decades to not have a college degree. In his previous job, he refused tens of thousands of dollars in salary to help balance a bloated budget. He was hailed by many as an up and coming star as he took on the tough budget battles in Milwaukee County. He is Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor and a man called everything from the Midwest's Mubarak to Hitler by the public-employee unions he seeks to rein in.


Rarely has there been a greater contrast to two incoming governors than Dayton and Walker. One learned the value of a dollar at a very early age. The other always had the trust fund of Dayton Hudson to rely on. Dayton, who has never known poverty, is a classic limousine liberal. Walker, who reduced his salary and brown-bags it to lunch, practices and preaches budget austerity.

Are government employees overpaid? The average Las Vegas firefighter collects $185,000 a year in salary and benefits and can retire young with a pension from a system that pays many enormous salaries each year until the recipients die. The average Milwaukee teacher costs taxpayers over $100,000 a year when health and benefits costs are added in. With sick days, leave, summers off and numerous breaks, they work 8 months a year. Thirty-three thousand retired New York City police officers receive a Christmas bonus of $12,000 on top of very generous pensions. These are local examples. There isn't enough space to start examining very high federal pensions and benefits.

Something is very wrong when government employees (who are supposed to serve the public) are bankrupting the people who pay them. Walker, Chris Christie in New Jersey, John Kasich in Ohio and even Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York all realize the largesse of government and the fact that public employees must share in the pain of a long recession.

A couple of years ago, an executive in Wisconsin made a very unpopular decision to many working-class people known as Cheeseheads. He changed the way of doing things by letting the beloved quarterback go. That quarterback ended up in Minnesota and the Packers went with a new system. Oh ya, the results? The Vikings and Metrodome collapsed, and Aaron Rogers and the Packers won the Super Bowl.

As a diehard Vikes fan and 5th generation Minnesotan, I see Wisconsin as the model of leadership these days — in both the football and political arenas.

Cain Pence is an independent salesman living in his hometown of Minneapolis. He can be reached at caino [at] cainpence [dot] com.

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Comments (10)

Why do people insist on talking about governance as though it is as simple as running a household?

Additionally, why do people keep blaming deficits on public employees? Did they cause the economic collapse? No. Unfortunately both parties are too cowardly to stand up to those that did.

A millionaire, a union worker, and a tea partier are sitting around a plate of 12 cookies. The millionaire takes 11 cookies, looks at the tea partier and says " Watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."

Joe, that's a good point. The chain of logic here isn't really apparent. There are some of the classic anecdotes about overpaid government workers, and then a conclusion that these situations must be typical, and must have caused the budget crises around the nation.

One thing is for sure, if the bills capping teacher salary that are going through state legislators around the country end up passing, conservatives won't have to worry about teachers making anything more than a burger flipper. Nevermind the importance of public education, and that a teacher is (unbeknown to some) an educated professional. Under these new regs, a teacher with a masters degree (and student loans) would make less than a trucker, who could have gotten the job straight out of high school.

"Why do people insist on talking about governance as though it is as simple as running a household?"
---Who is doing that here? Have you read the article or are you copy/pasting comments you found on Facebook about unrelated tangents?

"Additionally, why do people keep blaming deficits on public employees? Did they cause the economic collapse? No. Unfortunately both parties are too cowardly to stand up to those that did."
--Who's blaming public employees? Where in the article does it say that? Once again, are you sure you are posting your open ended comment/question/bait attempt to the right article?

"A millionaire, a union worker, and a tea partier are sitting around a plate of 12 cookies. The millionaire takes 11 cookies, looks at the tea partier and says " Watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."
Let me fix the joke for you:
"A millionaire and a tea partier work in their kitchen to make 12 cookies. The union leader walks in and says "These are our cookies, we will distribute them based on need!" In the end, The millionaire gets 2 cookies, the tea partier gets one, the union leader keeps 3 and gives one to the union workers while 5 cookies are destroyed in the distribution process. The union leader then demands more cookies.
*Rimshot*

The author is forgetting that the budget "shortfall" in Wisconsin was self-created by Mr. Walker's earlier tax breaks to corporate entities. The Leader's slithery tactics are aimed to disrupt any balance of power between real people and corporate interests.

Is the real here Leader the brown-bagging Mr. Walker or the shadowy brothers Koch?

Ron,

I don't know what alternate reality you live in, but I haven't seen too many millionaires in the kitchen baking their own cookies. As for the Tea Partier, they're too busy listening in open-mouthed awe to Bachmann, Palin, Limbaugh, Beck and the rest to even have time to bake cookies.

The original joke IS a perfect metaphor for our times. Instead of paying attention to the fact that the CEO took all but one of the cookies, the Tea Partier is all too willing to be distracted by the CEO's comment to watch out for the union guy who wants part of the last cookie. The Tea Partier needs to start thinking for himself/herself, wake up and smell the coffee and see that the CEO took his cookieS.

This article would be more effective if the salary and benefit data was backed up with reliable sources. As it is, it has some some anecdotes that may or may not be true.
Quite a few of the articles here, like the earlier one on MN's Energy Act, tend to be rich in anecdotes and conclusions but poor with evidence.

Are government employees overpaid? The average Las Vegas firefighter collects $185,000 a year in salary and benefits and can retire young with a pension from a system that pays many enormous salaries each year until the recipients die. The average Milwaukee teacher costs taxpayers over $100,000 a year when health and benefits costs are added in. With sick days, leave, summers off and numerous breaks, they work 8 months a year. Thirty-three thousand retired New York City police officers receive a Christmas bonus of $12,000 on top of very generous pensions. These are local examples. There isn't enough space to start examining very high federal pensions and benefits.

The logic in this paragraph is astounding, and the comparisons are disingenuous at best. The author compares salaries in the first sentence to total costs in the second, to bonuses in the third. (I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant local government examples).

That $100,000 figure includes salary and health insurance, yes, but it also includes taxes paid by the employer like social security and medicare. Employers usually also include costs like unemployment insurance in these figures.

As an aside, the teachers I know don't work 8 hour days or get summers off. They're grading or doing lesson plans on weekends or at night because they don't get prep time during the day. In the summer they're doing continuing education and class prep. You couldn't pay me enough to make me want their job.

If you're going to make a comparison, make it apples to apples. Compare salary to salary.

Finally, if you want to live somewhere with 60 kids to a class and four-day school, move to WI. I'm happy to pay higher taxes for quality of life.

While the governor comparison may be an interesting topic of discussion, it doesn’t do much to advance the debate around what is occurring in Wisconsin and around the country.
The salary numbers might be interesting as well if they had valid citations and sources. As it is now, they are seeming pull in as anecdotal evidence that public workers are paid too much in some locals. That is certainly one opinion in the argument, though in my opinion, not terribly valid. Education is a key competitive advantage for business and the overall state of our country. There seems to be a general consensus in this country that the public education system is failing to prepare our children for the challenges of the future. One of the ways to remedy this is to get more skilled people teaching our kids. But if we lower teacher salary and benefits, how are we going to attract the best and brightest? The best and brightest will bypass teaching and enter the private sector in order to increase their income potential. As a parent of three children, two currently in the public school system and one about to enter it, I don’t want the lowest cost option when it comes to teachers. I want the best teachers we can hire. Lowering salary will not help attract those teachers. So if this country is serious about competing with China or the global economy in general in the future, we need a quality education system. That starts with parents, but is also heavily reliant on quality teachers.

To solve the budget issues, there will need to be some drastic measures and pain. I think the public workers are willing to accept some of that pain shown by their willingness to contribute more to their benefits, in the neighborhood of 6-8% of their salary (http://www.biztimes.com/daily/2011/2/18/republicans-reject-offer-by-unio... and http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/116470423.html and http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Daily-Reports/2011/February/21/Wisconsin... ). Would those making $250k/yr or more be willing to do the same? Apparently not given the debate around dropping the Bush tax cuts (though this is somewhat out of context given the state/local nature of this article).

That said, don’t kid yourself, this “battle” in Wisconsin has little to nothing to do with public employee salary and benefits. Gov. Walker is determined to dismantle the union. If it were not about dismantling the union, he would gladly accept the public workers offers to reduce their salary and contribute more out of their pocket to their benefits and move on to find additional ways to save money. Do I believe teachers and most public workers need unions? No. Personally, I see little need for unions except for jobs that are dangerous such as police, fire, electricians, miners, some manufacturing jobs, etc. But I’m also not for union busting in this manner.

The article is spot-on. The brevity of this article was probably intentional. A quick read. Remember, I am sure the editor would have not allowed this to be published without double-checking these facts. Also, I would almost guarantee that portions of this were edited/eliminated. Only the author, Cain Pence, can confirm this.

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2010/jun/25/county-government-wave-firef...

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/03/nyregion/03pensionsidebar.html

http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2011/mar/04/maciver-insti...

No mention of Walker's 117 million dollar tax breaks to large corporations the first two weeks he was in office?