Earlier this week, we were able to witness one of the two telescopic proofs of heliocentrism offered by Galileo in the 17th Century: that Venus could pass in front of the sun.  Virtually nobody who saw this week’s transit will be around for the next pass.

But eclipsing even this great orchestration in the heavens was a closely observed once in a lifetime political event. Scott Walker became the first-ever governor to win a recall election. Wisconsin has been in the national news since the 2010 election due to the conviction of that state’s administration and legislative leadership that reviewing and reforming government employee benefits was an important piece of the solution to huge and escalating government debt.

So, too, did Ohio’s administration and legislative leadership try to seize the moment of national examination on the price of government and its collision course with economic reality.  Every state has a date inscribed on a chart which shows what year the state will reach the Greek tragedy formula of debt equal to 90% of its gross state product, if nothing is done to reform the system that compensates government employees.

As the Wall Street Journal put it in an editorial Monday morning, the Wisconsin governor was not under attack “because he and the GOP legislature asked public workers to pay 12.6% of their health insurance premiums and put 5.8% of their paychecks toward their pensions,” but because he crossed public sector unions at all. And he didn’t survive Tuesday’s challenge because of how taxpayers feel about paying their public servants more than they themselves are paid.  Rather, more than half of those who responded in exit polls said they would only recall a governor who had engaged in misconduct.

But reform is in the air, and in Ohio, we have some current tension between the legislative bodies about how fast they need to proceed with government employee pension reform.  The state Senate leadership has stated that Ohio is losing $2 million dollars a day by not acting, while the state House leadership appears to be waiting for the next report of the Retirement Study Commission.

There almost certainly will be a successful effort to curtail government employee benefits.  What remains to be seen is whether or not there will be a full-scale attack on the one-sided collective bargaining system, which has cemented these benefits in place until now.  If government exists only to provide essential services, then Presidents Jimmy Carter and Franklin Roosevelt – not to mention legendary labor leader George Meany – were probably right that it is an unjustified idea in the first place to allow providers of essential government services to form or join labor unions.

Three years after the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that government union members now outnumber private sector union members, it is not going to be a simple case to make or an easy reform to promote.

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