The Forum for Education and Democracy has set out to distinguish between the myths and the facts around the turmoil in Wisconsin as thousands continue to march on the Capitol to oppose anti-union legislation. They ask their readers to rethink some of the myths that are circulating. We share their ideas about the myths with our readers to rethink also.
•Myth #1: Public employees in Wisconsin and elsewhere are overpaid. The truth is they’re probably underpaid when you factor in things like level of education. In Wisconsin, nearly 60 percent of public employees hold at least a four-year college degree – double the private sector workforce. That’s because many are teachers and other professionals. When you compare apples to apples, they earn 4.8 percent less than comparable private sector workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
•Myth #2: Public employees aren’t sacrificing their fair share. In the last round of bargaining in Wisconsin, the American Federation of Teachers alone offered more than $100 million in concessions in the form of higher health insurance premiums, furlough days and increased pension contributions. In Ohio, unions representing public employees gave back more than $200 million in concessions, essentially balancing the budget on their own backs.
•Myth #3: High employee benefits got us into this budget mess. Wisconsin was looking at a budget surplus until Republicans gave $117 million in business tax breaks. The reality is that the state is now facing a budget gap, but the gap is 13 percent of the budget. The average gap in other states is 20 percent, so things in Wisconsin are actually better than the norm.
•Myth #4: The state retirement system is in trouble. Again, Wisconsin is in a better position than many states. The $72 billion Wisconsin Retirement System is over 97 percent funded according to the Center of Retirement Research, a non-partisan think tank. By comparison, the fund in neighboring Illinois is only 52 percent funded.
•Myth #5: The governor has no other option. This is clearly not the case. The public employee unions have already said they will give him concessions to erase the budget gap – if he backs off his pledge to crush their bargaining rights. Also, Wisconsin and other states have large amounts of unspent stimulus funds that could be used to ease the burden. If ever there was a rainy day, this is it!