You probably know by now that the Democratic members of the Wisconsin State Senate have fled the state so that there will not be a quorum present to vote on legislation backed by newly-elected Rethug governor Scott Walker. This legislation pretends to address a budget disaster that Walker manufactured - but is really designed to deprive the State's workers of collective bargaining rights. As noted in the link above, similar action is on the docket in Ohio, another working class state that made the huge mistake of electing a Repugnicant governor in the most recent election.
Here are the facts about Wisconsin.
1) There was no budget shortfall until Walker took office. The State Fiscal Bureau project a surplus of $121 million in a report dated January 30, 2011.
2) Walker wiped out this surplus with the following actions -
- $25 million for an "economic development fund" that has a $75 balance due to lack of job creation. Essentially this is money down a black hole.
- $48 million for private health care savings accounts -as implemented in Wisconsin, this favorite Rethug love-child is simply a tax-dodge for the well-off.
- $67 million for a tax-shift plan to benefit "job creators," but at levels too low to spur hiring.
The bottom line is evident to anyone who cares to pay attention not to the spin but to the budget figures: Walker is manufacturing a fiscal “crisis” in order to achieve political goals.
Walker is not addressing a fiscal crisis.
He is not serving Wisconsin.
He is serving his own interest and those of the lobbyists who represent his campaign contributors.
3) Walker's plan to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights specifically excluded the police and fire fighters unions, which had supported his candidacy. This is a blatant ploy to pay back those unions for their support, and to play divide-and-conquer among the state's employees. To their credit, the police and firemen have joined the teachers and other state workers in their protest against the governor's union busting tatics.
4) One lie you might hear is that state workers are overpaid, or have overly generous benefit packages. Menzie Chinn presents the facts. Any way you slice it, public sector employees (except for those with less than a high school education, who make slightly more) in Wisconsin make less than their private sector counterparts.
5) Wisconsin state employees, as retirees, receive very modest pensions, and their pension plan is getting badly screwed by the fund mangers. David Cay Johnston of Tax.com explains it to Dylan Ratigan:
You know, the pensions they want to go after, they’re not very big in Wisconsin. I just calculated the numbers. The average Wisconsin state employee gets $24,500 a year. That’s not a very big pension. The state pension plan, 15% of the money going into it each year is being paid out to Wall Street to manage the money. That’s a really huge high percentage to pay out to Wall Street to manage the money. And what I think is going on here is this is the state as we began where public employee unions were first by law allowed, and if this governor can break these unions then you’re going to see this happen all across the country and further drive down wages. And if you can drive down wages in the public sector, it means private employers can drive down wages in the private sector.
Jack Norman, research director at the Institute for Wisconsin Future -- a public interest think tank -- sums it up this way.
Walker was not forced into a budget repair bill by circumstances beyond his control. He wanted a budget repair bill and forced it by pushing through tax cuts... so he could rush through these other changes. . . . The state of Wisconsin has not reached the point at which austerity measures are needed.
The Cap Times editorial linked and quoted above put it this way.
To the extent that there is an imbalance -- Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit -- it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January. If the Legislature were simply to rescind Walker’s new spending schemes -- or delay their implementation until they are offset by fresh revenues -- the “crisis” would not exist.
In summary, Governor Wanker's plan achieves or attempts the following:
1) A budget crisis manufactured by more than $100 million in give-aways to corporations, lobbyists and special interest groups.
2) Shifting the tax burden from the haves to the have-nots - a consistent Rethug theme since Reagan.
3) The destruction of collective bargaining - a consistent Rethug theme since Reagan.
My hat is off to the Democratic senators who fled the state, the demonstrators who refuse to take this lying down, and Ed Shultz who started reporting about this on Monday, when nobody else was paying attention.
Ed has been calling Rethug policies an assault on the middle class for years - and he's right. It has been clear for decades that Rethugs want to roll back the New Deal. State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, as quoted in the Cap Times editorial takes it farther:
In one fell swoop, Gov. Walker is trying to institute a sweeping radical and dangerous notion that will return Wisconsin to the days when land barons and railroad tycoons controlled the political elites in Madison.
Polan sees the Rethug plan as going back 100 years or more to the gilded age of robber barons. But even that is not taking it far enough. Rethugs have been at war with education for over 50 years. They do not want a population educated beyond the ability to do simple repetitive labor tasks. They certainly do not want a population who understands civics and democracy, and is able to rise up the way the union workers of Wisconsin have risen up.
The Rethug plan is to roll back not only the New Deal, but the U.S. Constitution, and The Enlightenment, on which it is based. The key phrase, from the Preamble to The Declaration of Independence, is "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . ." Everybody knows these words - an astoundingly radical statement at the time - but how often do we really reflect on their meaning? What is clear to me is that people who call themselves "conservative" do not believe, and have never believed that these words carry any truth whatsoever. They believe in a society structured and ruled by class. This is not me talking - it is directly from Burke, via Kirk, in The Conservative Mind.
A class based society is profoundly at variance with everything the United States professes to stand for. But this is the goal of the Rethugs and thier rich, regressive backers - the Koch brothers, and others of their ilk.
Make no mistake, this assault on unions, along with the Rethug assault on Social Security is part of a master plan to reform society into a modern version of feudalism, where trans-national mega-corporations with no loyalty to anything nor anybody, have and control all the wealth, while you and I are reduced to abject povery, and our children and grandchildren become their serfs.
This country is not broke, as I heard Sir Boner of Orange state the other night. This is a rich country with enormous and growing wealth disparity. The plan is working - it's been working for over 30 years - and the end game is total control of all wealth by a tiny minority, while the rest of us struggle at the edge of starvation.
This is the true road to serfdom, and it is playing out before our very eyes.
If we will allow it.