Guest Commentary: Time for Hickenlooper to Tackle Bureaucrat Union

June 8, 2012

HOULTON: Public sector compensation must be brought into line with economic reality

On Tuesday, Wisconsin voters turned out in droves to repudiate a blatantly political maneuver by Big Labor to attempt to recall Governor Scott Walker. The momentous failure of union bosses to coerce Wisconsin taxpayers into funding their special interest entitlements shows a national turn of the tide – one that cannot and should not be ignored here in Colorado. 

The message Wisconsin voters sent to government unions resonated across the country, and it should be a guiding light for our own Governor John Hickenlooper. Voters are sick of the pervasive entitlement mentality and welfare culture plaguing our state and nation. They are tired of their public sector counterparts earning higher salaries with greater benefits and ballooning retirement accounts – all paid for on the taxpayers’ dime. They have every right to be upset.

In 2007, Democratic Governor Bill Ritter signed an executive order unionizing Colorado’s state employees, much to the chagrin of business leaders, legislators, and Colorado taxpayers. The shady backroom deal was a deliberate handout to Colorado’s union bosses. It backfired and Governor Ritter is now former Governor Ritter.

But, that was 2007. There is now an even more urgent need to reform state governments away from special interest intrusion and back to their intended and limited roles.

Governor Hickenlooper supposedly prides himself on his business-friendly demeanor and his independence from his Democrat allies. Now is the perfect time to prove he is not the lead-from-behind Governor Coloradans are accustomed to and repeal the collective bargaining rights of government bureaucrats.

As President Franklin Roosevelt once said, “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management.”

Hickenlooper should take note. History has proven President Roosevelt right.

One only has to look to Washington and across the Atlantic Ocean to see the fiscal train wreck caused by bloated government budgets and union-dominated public sectors. Colorado must avoid going down the same path toward economic collapse.

On the same day as the Wisconsin election, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released their latest report on America’s long-term budget outlook. The report should scare even the most ardent big-government proponents.

According to CBO estimates, our debt-to-GDP ratio will be at the highest level in American history, with the exception of World War II, by the end of the year. The debt held by the American public will rise to 70% of our total economy. If our spending trends continue, the ratio will increase to 90% by 2022 and to almost 200% by 2037. To put it into perspective, our ratio was at 40% four years ago and the Greek economy, on the brink of total economic collapse, hovers at a 165% debt-to-GDP ratio.

This is how serious our economic crisis will become without bold reforms like those of Governor Scott Walker. Public sector compensation must be brought into line with economic reality.

Here in Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper can overturn Ritter’s misguided executive order with one stroke of his pen. This simple task is one concrete step toward turning our economy around and reining in our state budget before it’s too late.

T.Q. Houlton is president of Compass Colorado, a free market advocacy organization

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