Ezra Klein says that unions do fight for the public good against corporations all the time, in contrast to what I said earlier:
This is the exact sort of proposal that unions tend to fight. Why? It's hard to say. Relatively few of their members are on Medicaid. The whole point of being in a union, on some level, is that you don't have to be on Medicaid. But unions have this odd notion of "solidarity." So whenever Medicaid cuts end up on the agenda, you'll find the labor movement is the only well-funded, mass-membership lobby throwing its shoulders into the fight to save Medicaid.
This is the role that unions play that some of my conservative friends are missing. Megan McArdle, for instance, asks, "In what way do public sector unions act as a check on the power of corporations?" You can find one of the answers in Walker's agenda. Corporations aren't lobbying against Medicaid, of course. But they're lobbying for massive corporate tax cuts. And they look likely to get them (in fact, they've already gotten some). But the hundreds of millions of dollars or billions of dollars that those tax cuts add to the deficit will have to be made up somewhere. And Medicaid is a likely target. There is no one behind Medicaid with even an ounce of the political power that the business community wields.
No one, that is, except unions. And unions also happen to be the only organized interest group standing in opposition to continual tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. This is why this fight is so important to both sides. If it were just about the money, it would be easier to resolve. But it's not just about money. And it's not, as McArdle goes on to suggest, about "some extra benefits for the teachers' unions." After all, the unions have already offered to make the concessions on benefits that Walker has asked for. Rather, this is about the balance of political power in Wisconsin and, given the potential for other governors to adopt Walker's proposal, nationally. It's about whether there will be anyone left to speak up next time a state with a yawning deficit proposes to give corporations a massive tax break while slashing Medicaid benefits. And that matters.
Clearly, Ezra and I look at the same situation and see two different things. In the most recent quarter for which the Census has data, corporate income taxes provided about $9.2 billion worth of revenue to all 50 states. This is less than 20% of New York State's Medicaid bill. It is also about 3% of the overall tax revenue collected by the states. This goes up to about 4.5% in the second quarter of the year, which includes April 15th, but overall, it is not a very significant source of revenue.
- the decision to force local governments to match state funds (effectively allowing the state to "spend" three dollars in local and federal matching funds for every one dollar of state spending); this was later modified in the face of fiscal meltdown in the state's poor northern and western regions, but still puts considerable upward pressure on the budget
- Local 1199 of the SEIU, which during the good time wins lush reimbursement expansion for its members, and during down times has mostly successfully avoided cuts by dint of running theatrical ads implying terrible catastrophes await if there is any cut at all to New York's lavish reimbursements.