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Posted at 4:53 PM ET, 02/18/2011

What do Virginia, Washington and Texas tell us about public-employee unions?

By Ezra Klein

Earlier today, I linked to Reihan Salam saying that Virginia is a state where the public employees can't collectively bargain. He expands on the point at his blog and says the lesson of Virginia isn't just that the public employees can't collectively bargain but that they can't collectively bargain and the state is really, really well run, or at least was under Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

Reihan doesn't really bring any more evidence to bear on the question than that. As he sort of notes, the performance of various state governments is complicated, and it'd take a special kind of foolishness to try to lash it too tightly to collective bargaining arrangements. Take a look at this map, which shows which states allow for collective bargaining and which states don't. Now take a look at this map, which shows the Pew Center on the States' grades for government performance. The three top-ranked states are Virginia, Utah and Washington. Virginia doesn't allow collective bargaining for public employees, Utah allows it, and Washington enforces it.

For all that, I actually wouldn't mind having a conversation over whether collective bargaining makes state government better or worse. But that is definitely not the discussion Scott Walker is having with his state. As both his State of the State speech and his proposal show, he's framed this entirely in fiscal terms. And that's an important difference. If he'd framed it in terms of governmental performance, he'd have to admit that he's trying to completely destroy the viability of the state's public unions, which is something he's been working hard to obscure. That's how you make government work differently.

But Walker isn't prepared for that conversation. Rather, he's been masking his proposal in a milder argument about pension contributions. But even that's not such a sure thing, as plenty of states without collective bargaining are facing massive deficits -- including Texas, which is beginning to look almost California-esque in its budget projections. Which goes to what I was trying to show by linking to Reihan's tweet: Picking and choosing states to prove various points about collective bargaining doesn't get us very far in this discussion.

By Ezra Klein  | February 18, 2011; 4:53 PM ET
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Seriously? It isn't possible for a state to get less than a C? C is average and everyone is above average?

What is this, Yale? Or Lake Wobegon?

Georgia gets a B+. I live here and I can tell you these jackasses deserve a D-. It's all about flags, guns and creationism.

Posted by: pj_camp | February 18, 2011 8:00 PM | Report abuse

If flags, guns and creationism nets a D-, how does the corruption, crime and infanticide of the blue states scale?

Posted by: cprferry | February 19, 2011 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Texas Deserves an 'F'!

Posted by: ddoiron1 | February 19, 2011 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Ezra "Boy" Klein-founder of the sinister Journolist. Boy, as a journalist, you're a joke.

Posted by: Azarkhan | February 19, 2011 9:57 AM | Report abuse

"The report’s findings are generated from extensive interviews and surveys of state-level managers and opinion leaders."

Those Lying Idiots only want their State to look Better than it Realy is.

Texas Drop Out Rates are near 30%.

"Also getting restless are growing numbers of Texas business executives. Some don't see much leadership from politicians or the private sector in attacking the trend line that demographer Steve Murdock says will result in three of every 10 workers not having a high school education by 2040."

According to the Texas Education Agency, more than 22,620 high school students stopped showing up for class in 2008 but weren't listed as dropouts. Instead, their schools filed paperwork declaring that those students had left to be home-schooled.

But is that what's really going on? Based on anecdotal evidence and other fishy numbers, child advocates suspect that some school administrators are using home-schooling to hide their high dropout rates.

But if you're a school administrator, you don't even have to be that subtle. To disguise your dropouts as home-schoolers, all you have to do is fill out the state's paperwork by indicating that you heard the kid or his parent say that he'll be home-schooled. And poof! No dropout!

The Intercultural Development Research Association, an independent education advocacy group in San Antonio, has pegged the rate at 31 percent, based on the number of students who enrolled in 2005 and finished in 2009.

Posted by: ddoiron1 | February 19, 2011 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Could you shorten the discussion and just lead off with "More Republican Lies"?

It has the benefit of being accurate and direct and if it were presented at the beginning of the paragraph it would set the stage to appropriately interpret the statements of the right wing that are then directly quoted.

The standard "balanced reporting" method gives too much credence to the world is flat argument. This looks like jouramalism invading your blog, Ezra.

Posted by: grooft | February 19, 2011 11:59 AM | Report abuse

It intersting that with all the attention directed on the state of Wisconsin and Gov. Walker no one noticed the statement made by the former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanual in his run for Mayor of Chicago. Rahm said that property taxes might have to be raised by 90% to pay for the pensions of Chicago city workers. The state and county governments are facing the same problem. Rahm has already faced criticism about suggesting that these agreememts have to end. What will be the cry of the unions when Emanual comes for the unions? Will they claim he's a Tea-Partier?

Posted by: Herbert1 | February 19, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Ezra. All the states with the worst deficits, all the states teetering on edge of bankruptcy, Illinois, California, New York, New Jersey, are big government union states. States with their financial houses in order like Texas and Virginia are in vastly better shape. No amount of inside the beltway spin can hide this truth.

Posted by: jy151310 | February 20, 2011 2:02 AM | Report abuse

Ezra - the "debate" on collective bargaining really has little to do in my mind about money, specifically saving it. It has much more to do with a total lack of respect some humans have for others. It seems that government employees are being demonized by conservatives because they are somehow viewed as the root of the deficit problem. Like America can somehow balance the books if government employees are instantly fired, and nobody will notice if they are gone. That is an ignorant perspective.

Now, I am no big fan of unions but I am a state employee myself as a college professor, and I don't take kindly to hearing that I am lazy and not pulling my fair share because I don't have a private sector job. Sorry, but there are many, many devoted, hard working government employees in this country that deserve respect and consideration.

From where I sit the Tea Party is attacking the wrong people. I will stand against them just to stand against them because they are not looking at this issue objectively.

We can solve our budget problems, but not like this. Not when John Boehner callously shouts "so be it" to laying off government employees after pitching against "job killing" pro-middle class policies.

The budget problems will be solved when clear and responsible heads prevail.

Posted by: gfoster56 | February 20, 2011 8:02 AM | Report abuse

jy15130.... Texas has its fiscal house in order? With a $25 billion deficit? Interesting perspective you have.

Posted by: jambalaya | February 20, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

jambalaya, Texas has such a deficit only if you accept Ezra's numbers. Somehow Texas' economy is doing absolutely fine. People are flocking to Texas for jobs and opportunity while the true big deficit states are collapsing.

Posted by: jy151310 | February 20, 2011 12:33 PM | Report abuse

@jy151310 ---

Texas being a good state for jobs and economic opportunity doesn't automatically mean it is in good fiscal shape.

Texas's economy contracted in 2009, too. Texas GDP for all industries was $1.069 billion in 2009 and $1.054 billion in 2008. If you count only private industry, Texas GDP was $932.7 million in 2009 and $953.4 million in 2008. It was growing nicely before the 2007-09 recession.

See the BEA site at Department of Commerce. You can get data 24/7, whereas 25 years ago you had to call someone up.

Posted by: kperl | February 20, 2011 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Ezra is simply writing talking points for public sector unions.

He's trying to change the subject, which is the excessive power public sector unions have when they are on both sides of the table during contract negotiations with school boards and other state and Federal government agencies.

There is no "collective bargaining" in the public sector because unions own the Democrats who give the unions the work rules, wages and benefits they want. It's easy to negotiate when your campaign contributions already have bought you the power to get what you want from elected officials who are spending taxpayers' money.

There is no "assault on unions." But there is a backlash against pubic sector union members who couldn't make half of what they're making if they were in the private sector. It's time to get control of government spending on payrolls and benefits and think about taxpayers first.

Posted by: donaldjohnson | February 20, 2011 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone here noticed that almost half (5/11) of the states that don't allow collective bargaining are given a "C" rating?

Posted by: GeorgeSanders | February 20, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Responding to:
It intersting that with all the attention directed on the state of Wisconsin and Gov. Walker no one noticed the statement made by the former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanual in his run for Mayor of Chicago. Rahm said that property taxes might have to be raised by 90% to pay for the pensions of Chicago city workers. The state and county governments are facing the same problem. Rahm has already faced criticism about suggesting that these agreememts have to end. What will be the cry of the unions when Emanual comes for the unions? Will they claim he's a Tea-Partier?

Posted by: Herbert1 | February 19, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse
More Republican sleaze tactics. Has Emmanuel called for the elimination of unions? Has he called for the elimination of collective bargaining rights? Of course not--you are treating a future possibility as an inevitable consequence. Emmanuel recognizes that there is a major financial problem for the city of Chicago, but there are many solutions that are possible besides the ideologically-driven solution of destroying unions. This is an old right-wing trick that goes back a century or more; in every crisis, the right screams that the only path to recovery is that of destroying the unions.

Note that the Wisconsin unions have already agreed to most of the financial proposals; what they are fighting for is collective bargaining rights, which are the basis of their survival.

Maybe the right wing should look at its own mismanagement of the economy over the last twenty years and reform themselves instead of blaming the hard-working teachers. Scott Walker is happy to give state money away to corporations in the form of needless tax breaks, just as the GOP has intentionally aimed at bankrupting the national economy since the days of Reagan. It's called "starve the beast": drive the deficit as high as possible so that no more social spending is possible. Cut taxes for the rich, start a war or two, whatever it takes. The Republicans are the traitors that should be run out of town on a rail.

Posted by: GeorgeSanders | February 20, 2011 4:10 PM | Report abuse

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