Why are Wisconsin unions pointing fingers at Virginia?  It doesn’t seem to make any sense, unless facts are less important than scoring points.  Virginia has been a right-to-work state for quite some time.  It’s not that we don’t have union representation for workers in the Old Dominion.  We do; only we don’t have collective bargaining for state employees and no one can be compelled to join a union.

In 1993, the Virginia General Assembly outlawed collective bargaining for state employees and it was signed into law by Democrat Governor Doug Wilder; hardly an anti-union politician.  To Governor Wilder’s credit, he saw public employee unions as being incongruent with responsible fiscal policy.

Wisconsin state employee unions have repeatedly argued that collective bargaining leads to better education outcomes.  They repeat this falsehood by piling on other falsehoods, such as Virginia ranking 44th in the nation on SATs and ACTs.  Politifact immediately responded that this was not true.  In fact, Virginia’s ranking on SATs and ACTs fell right in the middle of the scale in 2009.  Apparently the truth didn’t support their argument, so they substituted their own reality.

Virginia schools have above average test scores.  Period.  In 2010, Virginia outranked Wisconsin on the ACT; so much for the value of collective bargaining in test rankings.  Virginia did rate lower on SATs, however only 4% of Wisconsin students took the SAT versus 67% in Virginia.  In Virginia we promote students taking the SATs so that weaknesses can be addressed and the tests may be retaken.  We have a much larger pool than Wisconsin, and, as such, scores are diluted.  Many students in Virginia take the SATs that have not yet decided whether they will attend college, whereas in Wisconsin SATs are usually only taken by those that have already made that choice.  The comparison is invalid.

According to the Washington Post, Virginia public schools are among the top five state schools in the nation.  I guess the lack of collective bargaining hasn’t hurt too much.

Let’s dispense with the Wisconsin union’s departure from reality and throw out some pure facts, which explain why Virginia’s fiscal management is a poor target for comparison:

In Wisconsin, the state’s debt as a percent of income is 4.6%, while in Virginia it is less than half (2.1%.)  Wisconsin’s unfunded pension obligations, as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is nearly 1/3rd (32%,) while Virginia’s is nearly half (17%.)  Wisconsin’s score on quality of state government management (according to the Pew Center) is a “B-”.  Virginia scores an “A-“.  It would seem that Wisconsin’s unions might have chosen a better target.  The problem is they needed to find a right-to-work state to support their argument, and that’s the rub.  They couldn’t find one that met their needs, so they decided to fudge the facts.  It would’ve been easy to find a number of states that rated lower on test scores, or ranked lower on state management, but they would’ve found them all to have collective bargaining for state employees.  And as Al Gore would say, that’s just an inconvenient truth.

Wisconsin has been bleeding for years, primarily due to the fact that it ranks amongst the highest taxed states in the country.  The state employees are paid far better than the average taxpayer, leading to endless budget woes.  When the Wisconsin Governor’s restrictions on collective bargaining and restrictions on employee benefits become law, Wisconsin government employees will still be paid better than in most states, and will have more collective bargaining rights than many states and federal government employees.

In Wisconsin, at least for the unions, the value of the truth is dependent upon whether it supports your point of view or not.  If not, they seem content on substituting their own.