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Tilting at Windmills

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February 18, 2011

THE NATURE OF THE DISPUTE IN WISCONSIN.... To hear Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) tell it, he really doesn't have much of a choice. The state's facing a budget shortfall, and crushing public-sector labor unions will save the state's finances.

It's important to realize how very wrong this is. Indeed, what's been largely lost in this week's debate is that Walker inherited a pretty good fiscal situation from his Democratic predecessor -- Wisconsin was on track to end the fiscal year with an extra $120 million in state coffers.

So why launch a union-busting crusade? Ezra Klein explained the situation nicely:

...The governor signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues. The new legislation was not offset, and it turned a surplus into a deficit. As Brian Beutler writes, "public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda."

But even that's not the full story here. Public employees aren't being asked to make a one-time payment into the state's coffers. Rather, Walker is proposing to sharply curtail their right to bargain collectively. A cyclical downturn that isn't their fault, plus an unexpected reversal in Wisconsin's budget picture that wasn't their doing, is being used to permanently end their ability to sit across the table from their employer and negotiate what their health insurance should look like.

That's how you keep a crisis from going to waste: You take a complicated problem that requires the apparent need for bold action and use it to achieve a longtime ideological objective. In this case, permanently weakening public-employee unions, a group much-loathed by Republicans in general and by the Republican legislators who have to battle them in elections in particular.

Much of the debate has been about some of the larger issues, and they're well worth exploring. But the specifics of this dispute make all the difference -- a far-right governor inherited sound state finances, made them worse on purpose, and now demands public employees fix his problem. While he's at it, Walker hopes to engage in superfluous union-busting, not to improve the budget, but just because he feels like it.

In the meantime, state unions are ready to negotiate, and are even prepared to accept less pay, but the governor refuses to even talk to them.

Whether one is sympathetic to labor or not is almost beside the point. Walker's antics are demonstrably irresponsible and impossible to defend.

This local editorial out of Madison drives the point home nicely:

There is no question that these are tough times, and they may require tough choices. But Gov. Scott Walker is not making tough choices. He is making political choices, and they are designed not to balance budgets but to improve his political position and that of his party. [...]

The facts are not debatable. Because of the painful choices made by the previous Legislature, Wisconsin is in better shape fiscally than most states.

Wisconsin has lower unemployment than most states. Wisconsin has better prospects for maintaining great schools, great public services and a great quality of life than most states, even in turbulent economic times.

Unfortunately, Walker has a political agenda that relies on the fantasy that Wisconsin is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

Walker is not interested in balanced budgets, efficient government or meaningful job creation. Walker is interested in gaming the system to benefit his political allies and campaign contributors.

To fall for this cynical charade is to ignore reality.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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Comments

I agree with the basic point here, but in fairness, the State's official projection for the 2011-2013 budget biennium (they're on a 2-year cycle) is a $1.5 billion shortfall between projected revenue and agency budget requests.

Beutler's point, which has now been echoed everywhere, is about *this* fiscal year, which ends in June 2011. That's fine as far as it goes, but it only goes so far.

In any event, no, the projected shortfall should not be an excuse to abrogate collective bargaining rights.

Posted by: RS22 on February 18, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

There is no honor or honesty among ratpublicans in Wisconsin. It's excellent to know that 8 of the ratpublican senators can be recalled immediately, and gov. Rat Walker can be recalled in January. Wisconsonites are beginning to realize this and are starting to respond accordingly.

http://thinkprogress.org/2011/02/18/wisconsin-recall/

Wouldn't it be absolutely fantastic to put these rat bastards on the defensive and wish they'd never taken this path?

Posted by: burro on February 18, 2011 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

The state's facing a budget shortfall, and crushing public-sector labor unions will save the state's finances.

This is your Country on [Drugs] er, Glen Beck.

Posted by: cwolf on February 18, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Walker is dirty!

The question becomes how do Wisconsinites cleanse their hands of such wicked folly?

The answer begins with a better-informed voter! This past election cycle's crop of angry Tea Partying Republican candidates threw a whole bunch of shit into the fan in hopes it'd stick on the wall, and low and behold, the uninformed voter voted the incumbents out, in many cases, "to send a message," and here we are!

In 2012, it's on! A vote for Republicans is a vote for misery! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 18, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

The budget shortfall is just a convenient rationalization for union busting. And said union busting is part of a larger strategy by corporate America(of which the republicans are a wholly owned subsidiary) to cripple dependable democratic voting blocs. The Citizens Untied case, the take down of ACORN, attacking the teacher unions, etc. are also part of that plan.

We are seeing a push to return to the Gilded Age, and destroy whatever is left of the New Deal.

Posted by: Holmes on February 18, 2011 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Best sign I saw at the capitol yesterday: "Fox News will lie about what happened here today."

And sure enough, some folks at my office believe what Fox tells them over what I told them.

Posted by: wihntr on February 18, 2011 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

It's great to keep a bright light on Walker, but let's note that the story is expanding here, with similar union-busting tactics unfolding in Tennessee and Ohio. Last night one of the WI Dem senators told Rachel Maddow that this is a coordinated effort on the part of the GOP governors. I do not think that is a paranoid assessment.

Posted by: shortstop on February 18, 2011 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Texas is a right to work state, but our budget problems stem from similar political actions. Goodhair slashed property taxes which were supposed to be replaced by a "business enterprise fee." The calculated it wrong, and the revenues didn't offset.

Instead of fixing the fee, now goodhair and his teabagging friends want to balance the budget by gutting K-12 and the university system.

Assholes and liars. Everyone of them.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on February 18, 2011 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with the basic point here, but in fairness, the State's official projection for the 2011-2013 budget biennium (they're on a 2-year cycle) is a $1.5 billion shortfall between projected revenue and agency budget requests.

But isn't that shortfall due to Walker's implementing tax cuts for his cronies as soon as he got into office? It's pretty unfair for him to deliberately cut state revenues and then suddenly declare there's a deficit so now other people have to sacrifice. He created the "crisis" and he wants other people to pay for his stupidity.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on February 18, 2011 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

To fall for this cynical charade is to ignore reality.

Here, you describe the typical position of the SCLM.

-Z

Posted by: Zorro on February 18, 2011 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK
But isn't that shortfall due to Walker's implementing tax cuts for his cronies as soon as he got into office? It's pretty unfair for him to deliberately cut state revenues and then suddenly declare there's a deficit so now other people have to sacrifice. He created the "crisis" and he wants other people to pay for his stupidity.

It's not stupidity if this is what he intended to happen. Just callousness.

Posted by: Sasha on February 18, 2011 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

I hear there is going to be a recall effort on some of the repubs in Wisconsin, although I do not live in that state and cannot sign up, I will gladly put in a few dollars if needed, please let us all do it!

Posted by: Joant on February 18, 2011 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Shock Doctrine, American style!

Posted by: square1 on February 18, 2011 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

with the GOP, it's always useful to remember Politics trumps Policy.
That doesn't mean they won't use Policy to gain Politically. It does mean that when there's a choice between the two, it's Politics every time.

Posted by: T2 on February 18, 2011 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

it seems as if this hating on public sector workers knows no bounds. what i hear from those around me is that public sector employees 'get too much and its not fair'. no facts or statistics needed to back that up...'i don't get what they get and i am angry'. as if a pension and health benefits should not be allowed to 'those' folks. when one points out the public sector in wisconsin makes X amount less than the private sector it doesn't matter. facts don't matter. its the i once 'knew a public sector worker who made more than me' complaint. i know lots of private sector folks who make more than me...but private sector is morally good and public sector is morally bad.

like many of these arguments all i can some days is hope these people get their wishes granted. lets end the unions. take away health care and social security. privatize the public sector. lets just give them what they want. everyone for themselves. i know i will be fine. i work in the financial services sector!

Posted by: poly on February 18, 2011 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in Wisconsin (a long time ago). I remember when people in that state were proud of their progressive heritage. You heard lots of mentions of Bob LaFollette--Sr. and Jr. Everyone in the state was (justifiably) proud of the fine university system. It saddens me to see my former home descend into this political madness.

Posted by: Bob on February 18, 2011 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

This is not the first time Walker has used the budget as an excuse to take a shot at the Union. When he was the Milwaukee county exec in 2009 he tried to privatize security at the courthouse. The County Board rejected the proposal so in 2010 he declared a budget emergency and privatized them anyway. In the investigation that followed it was found that

1. there was no budget emergency

2. Walker broke the union contract by not allowing any time for the union to make a counter offer.

3. Walker said it would save the county $125k when in fact he overstated the savings by $53k. In arbitration the county was told they had to pay the laid off security guards all the back pay for the duration they were laid off and had to guarantee them employment for 180 days which is the time they should have had to respond to Walker's proposal.

The full details can be found in this article:


http://www.allbusiness.com/government/government-bodies-offices-regional-local/15435944-1.html

Posted by: John on February 18, 2011 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

FYI to Walker: America outgrew the 19th century, just like I outgrew the pants I wore as a kid so I don't wear them any more. Why? Because they do not fit the adult I am now -- even the one's I wore teen are too constraining and painful to wear.   America has outgrown 19th century policies of feeding the rich with the future of American culture and civilization - cutting education budgets, raising college costs so it's profitable only to take subjects which return a profit - like business and engineering, demolishing state governments so the roads go on repaired and pollution increases, cutting people from health insurance like Arizona so disease and suffering increase, and demolishing public pension plans so that civil servants suffer later for the work they are doing today which benefits society. We have outgrown an income inequality which allows 1% of the population to take 47% of the total financial income of society, an inequality which would embarrass Queen Victoria. We remember the 19th Century it is part of us, but we do not want the violence, poverty, greed, racism and ethics associated with that most complex century.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on February 18, 2011 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Wisconsin does have a proud progressive heritage to defend. But it also gave the country HIM.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_McCarthy

Posted by: Rasputin22 on February 18, 2011 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

my request for pledges NOT to vacation in Wisconsin:

Pledge to SKIP Wisconsin in 2011! VOTE WITH YOUR TOURISM DOLLARS!
http://www.petitionfree.com/petition/pledge-to-skip-wisconsin-in-2011-vote-with-your-tourism-dollars/202

TEXT:

ARE YOU WILLING to vote with your tourism dollars
and SKIP Wisconsin in 2011!
to protest against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.
Sign this petition if you are willing to VOTE WITH YOUR TOURISM DOLLARS! and
SKIP Wisconsin in 2011!

Here is the current (as of 12:45 p.m. on 2-18-2011) status of the online poll of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

How do you feel about Gov. Walker's plan for the public workers' unions?

Gov. Scott Walker wants to help fix state finances by cutting benefits for union workers and wiping away their ability to negotiate over anything but their wages, setting up a potentially explosive battle in the Capitol.

I like it. The unions need to be reined in (17%)
Something needs to be done with the unions, but this is a little harsh (11%)
Hate it. These are dedicated public servants (72%)
Total Responses: 39,618

Posted by: SteveADor on February 18, 2011 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

I heard Rush Limbaugh today state the Wisconsin teachers were "bottom feeding free loaders."
My God! Teachers, firemen and policemen are denigrated and vilified this way.

I smell desperation.

Posted by: foghorn on February 18, 2011 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. It's the same goddamned tactic used again and again to exploit or manufacture a crisis in order to force through a reactionary agenda the far right couldn't enact democratically. The Party of No never takes no for an answer when it comes to wrecking our democracy.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 18, 2011 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Due to teacher walkouts (or sick-outs), Milwaukee schools are closed today, joining the Madison ones (closed for the third day running).

Poly, @15:04. My impression is that, to some people, unless the public sector employees worked for free (and no benefits), they would always earn too much, not to mention earn more than they're worth. After all, they're public servants, working at our pleasure; they have no rights other than those we grant them out of our generosity.

One of the positive outcomes of the Wisconsin's "Spring of the People" is happening in my own, Virginia, home. My husband, who, for years, teetered between indifference and hostility when it came to unions, suddenly swung around to full support :)

Posted by: exlibra on February 18, 2011 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

...Wisconsin teachers ... "bottom feeding free loaders" .

Well thank goodness the articulate and open minded Mr Limbaugh has not descended into an all to familiar pattern of schoolyard bullies and name calling .

Wot a treasure this Limbaugh character is !

If he did not exist it would be necessary to invent him . His unmistakable brilliance in defining everything questionable or unpleasant on his mind being confined to an altogether mysterious , if not disappeared , political term . A term , if I am not mistaken , that was in fire sales across the (political) spectrum after Sen. McGovern pulled the Democratic party one way , and the SDS pulled harder .

Posted by: FRP on February 18, 2011 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Let WI be a lesson to Democrats in state legislatures around the country. The Democratic governor and the Dems in the legislature made unpopular cuts last year to balance the budget and actually left the WI state government on track for a $121 million dollar surplus. Their reward? WI Democratic and Independent voter grumbled, shrugged their shoulders and stayed home on election day. The teabggers took over and are now eviscerating the unions, giving away the surplus to business interests, and chopping programs. No good deed goes unpunished.

Posted by: markg8 on February 18, 2011 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

That's how you keep a crisis from going to waste: You take a complicated problem that requires the apparent need for bold action and use it to achieve a longtime ideological objective.

Shock doctrine.

Posted by: g on February 18, 2011 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Wisconsin does have a proud progressive heritage to defend. But it also gave the country HIM.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_McCarthy

Piosted by: Rasputin22 on February 18, 2011 at 3:23 PM

It also gave us:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Proxmire

Whose Golden Fleece Awards frequently showed a shocking ignorance of the value of basic science.

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 18, 2011 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Markg8 hit it on the head. Anyone who stayed home to"show them" deserves a Ralph Nader special award for just not getting it. In Minnesota we were a mere 9000 votes from a similar fate.

Posted by: the seal on February 18, 2011 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism .

Seconded

Posted by: FRP on February 18, 2011 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

"Elections have consequences."

yes...but

I HIGHLY DOUBT THAT Scott "Hosni Mubarak" Walker was straight with voters before Nov 2010 that he planned to engineer a bunch of goodies for the wealthy and the corporatists, declare the results a self-made fiscal crisis, and then engineer a union-busting effort as well as eliminating wasteful or unneeded gov't programs.

There is a huge element of deception here I suspect.

;

Posted by: SteveADor on February 18, 2011 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who stayed home to"show them" deserves a Ralph Nader special award for just not getting it. In Minnesota we were a mere 9000 votes from a similar fate.

And in Illinois, we were only 19,000 votes away. No one down here doubts that Bill Brady would have tried to go Walker one better.

Posted by: shortstop on February 18, 2011 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

How many of the protesters voted FOR this asshole? People got what they voted for.

Posted by: impik on February 18, 2011 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Every union in America should send at least one representative to Madison to show support for their fellow union members.
And as far deception by a Republican goes, expect it. Never, ever vote for a Republican. This may be a life lesson for a whole generation just the way Hoovervilles were for my parents.

Posted by: Dianne on February 18, 2011 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

Brady was viewed as a loon, especially considering the lack of Repub strength in the legislature.
(And IMO he is a loon.)

But no doubt he would have done as much as possible despite that lack of Repub strength.

I suspect there was a VERY effective communication system among Repub state candidates so they all would be pushing this union busting effort at the same time once elected.

Posted by: SteveADor on February 18, 2011 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

The war between labor and capital will never end in this country. Corporate money has now so contaminated our electoral process, and our media is so controlled by the same corporate interests, that a successful push back can only be mounted if there is an educated, engaged public willing to take to the streets. Only in America is the public so docile, servile and obedient as its civil rights and livlihoods are being destroyed. The Koch brothers are really getting a bang for their bucks, and they've got lots more of them to spend impoverishing the masses.

Obviously, all the reactionary forces have manipulated our politics brilliantly, to the detriment of any progressive efforts to counter them. Progressives are now a sneeze in a hurricane of right-wing momentum, which also includes SCOTUS. This is the neo-gilded age, but there's no Teddy Roosevelt or FDR in sight. Certainly the ultra-cautious Obama is no crusader for the little guy despite his modest origins.

If Obama had any cajones he'd put a shot across Walker's bow by nationalizing the Wisconsin national guard and ordering it to leave the demonstrators alone as long as there is no violence. Then Walker can do a Mubarak and send out the goons to start some violence. And we can watch it on TV. The media should love it. Reality TV. Think of the ratings.

Posted by: rrk1 on February 18, 2011 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

These Republican governors are just trying to do a Ronald Reagan, busting the air traffic controllers union right off the bat.

But you know, when you attack unions in such a global way, and impact so many thousands and thousands of people, I don't think it's going to play out the same way.

Especially if people realize how Walker literally pulled a fast one with the giveaway to corporations--giveaway of THEIR money.

Posted by: jjm on February 18, 2011 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

It's been 81 years since the onset of the Great Depression and those who lived through it are almost all gone.
The generation that knew we're all in this together is all but gone and we're left with all too many of the "it can't happen to me" and "well, you only get what you deserve" types; currently represented politically by today's Republican/Teabagger Party. The Great Depression showed that, yes "it COULD happen to you" and many "DIDN'T deserve what they got".
The effects of the Great Depression, and the efforts by local, state and Federal governmental entities to counteract those effects, taught those citizens that cared to learn, or were forced to learn, that the government" wasn't necessarily to be feared as an intruder into your affairs. You had to keep an eye on it, of course, and undoubtedly wouldn't always like what was done, but that was to be expected when it was staffed with fellow citizens who were no better or worse than yourself. And, of course, it was your duty as a citizen.
For nearly fifty years after that experience, the majority of the people in this country viewed the "government" through lenses shaped by the Great Depression. They remembered their hard-earned lesson, that in a modern society, "government" is what unites us by allowing us to accomplish things we couldn't do by ourselves.
In the 1930s it was putting people to work and in the 1940s it was winning WWII and helping to rebuild Europe. The 1960s saw the Civil Rights movement, space flight and protests about, well, sometimes it seemed just about everything.
Since then, I guess, we've been resting. The older generation has gotten older or is gone. The younger generation doesn't have the unifying memories of shared triumphs and losses. Of surmounting, or adapting to, economic hardships. Of defeating what was the most vile and immoral enemy we had ever faced.
So THAT'S why this is happening, we have forgotten our history and are doomed to repeat it...

Posted by: Doug on February 18, 2011 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

@Holmes & @rrk1 already covered the point I was going to make. The Republican Party, Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary of Corporate America is just carrying out the marching orders of their masters. Send in the goon squad to squash the last of the middle class. We can all say, "Thank you suh for dis nice Walmart job! Can I please have some health care?"

Posted by: DK on February 18, 2011 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

@Doug: nice post.

Posted by: G.Kerby on February 19, 2011 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

As much as we rail against stupidity.That isn't our real problem.All republicans and right leaning independents watch alternative reality fox'snooze.Their Iq's are lowered dramatically, and by election time it is too late.

This is the republican strategy, continue with the stupid , as we create more stupid.Unless we have a way to combat fox news. Nothing can be done.We will be a lost country.It seems it cant happen, but look what it did to the house chambers, Look at what they are passing.

We can't just complain, we must develop a brain-saving strategy...OBI ONE, your our only hope...

Posted by: Michael on February 19, 2011 at 4:51 AM | PERMALINK

Look, Walker is doing what his corporate funders want him to do: convert middle-class dollars to elite-class wealth. Absolutely *NOTHING* will fix our system without getting to the root: political corruption. Politicians sharing in the booty by taking campaign bribes, and then rolling over to the industry that wants in the taxpayers pockets.

Jack Lohman
http://MoneyedPoliticians.net

Posted by: Jack Lohman on February 19, 2011 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

Walker is a snake, and has always been one. How the people of Wisconsin could have elected him is beyond me. This anti-union campaign has nothing to do with the economy of Wisconsin. I certainly don't hear him talking about anyone else taking cuts. He certainly isn't taking any sort of cut in HIS salary... I can hope that the protests remain peaceful, and that someone is able to one way or the other convince this asshole to look at the bigger picture.
If the economy of Wisconsin was the issue, then he wouldn't have the union-busting issues as a part of his bill. We see him for the snake that he is, writhing in Madison and hoping to get rid of a purely political opponent, i.e. unions... If he succeeds, God help us all, because every petty republican tyrant will be sucking this shit up over the country, as fast as they can.
Peace out, get involved, and stay tuned to what's coming down...
Thanks!

Posted by: DougW on February 19, 2011 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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