Thursday, April 12, 2012

Walker versus McDonnell

Republicans often do the work of their opponents. Virginia's Bob McDonnell is a case in point. When McDonnell was sworn into office as Virginia's new governor in early 2010 his very first action was to undermine the state's public employee retirement system. The prior governor, Democrat Tim Kaine, had put in the 2010 budget, that McDonnell inherited, a provision that would begin the process of employees contributing to their own pension funds. All McDonnell had to do was accept this provision and a bi-partisan beginning to reforming public pension funding would have begun, at zero cost to taxpayers. But, no.

McDonnell could not wait to strike the employee contributions, amounting to a meagre one percent of compensation (an amount that would be increased to two percent in year two), from his budget. Loudly proclaiming his desire not to raise taxes, his actions guaranteed massively higher taxes on future generations of Virginia taxpayers.

In his second year, McDonnell seemed to begin to see the error of his ways but by that time the funding status of the state's retirement system was beginning to spin out of control. Belatedly, McDonnell proposed a bizarre, Rube Goldberg set of reforms, that fail to deliver either adequate retirement income for public employees or a reasonable method of financing such income. The crazy, convoluted set of reforms was mainly designed to appease every possible interest group and anger no one. This is not an uncommon path for Republicans, regardless of rhetoric.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, on the other hand, risked the wrath of the public employee unions by going right to the heart of the problem and making serious, major, and easy to understand reforms. And they work. Now, Walker, is battling a recall movement. Why? Because Walker's reforms are for real. When real reforms take place, there is opposition. McDonnell's program is not real reform. It is simply another example of Republicans expanding the role of government and adding more obligations for future taxpayers, while striking a pose for fiscal restraint. But, it is only a pose.

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