Austerity or Power-Grab?: Wisconsin reaps what was sown in November elections

Wisconsin was the only state in the nation where Democrats lost the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat, and both houses of the state Legislature in 2010.

Now the state is spiraling into political turmoil as the repercussions of the last election are becoming evident.

There is a lot of pride and shame today on the isthmus of downtown Madison. Cameras, journalist, signs, chants… and a lot of dizzying information now stream through the public consciousness like the 100,000+ protesters flowed through the city streets this week .

Some of the most dizzying comments came from the man at the center of it all, Governor Scott Walker, in his response to the protests this week:

Especially in part 2 , you can hear the protesters roar outside. Even Walker has to acknowledge the noise.

At the heart of the matter is worker’s rights, power sharing, and ultimately, law.

At the other heart of the same matter is fiscal solvency, political domination, and business.

Walker, who took office last month, says his new controversial biennial budget would save $300 million over the next two years to help close a $3.6 billion budget gap. He calls it “budget repair.” It is an appropriate name, but many argue that it repairs what Gov. Walker has already broken in his few weeks in office.

Was there a fiscal crisis in Wisconsin before Inauguration Day?  Governor Walker reports a nearly $137 million deficit, leaving out that he just gave a $140 million dollar tax break to large multinational corporations/special interest groups. (Cap Times 2/16/11)

Yes, we are seeing austerity measures  in the “Budget Repair Bill.” Public workers – excluding police, firefighters and state troopers (whose unions supported Walker  in 2010)- would have to pay half of their pension costs and at least 12 percent of their health-care costs.

Power grab? Also yes.  The bill eliminates public unions’ ability to bargain for anything except pay.  What does that mean for the budget? Rolling back worker’s bargaining rights saves almost nothing in the here and now.  However, the fear of the teachers, nurses, and EMTs protesting on the capitol is that additional cuts to benefits AND pay could be made without further legislation (and obviously, collective bargaining) once the new bill is law.

See part 4 of State Assembly proceedings (2/18) on WisEye.org for a particularly contentious move by the new majority to fast-track this vote (Special Session Bill 11). Rep. Barca (D-Kenosha) and his colleague from Oshkosh can hardly contain their anger at the attempt for a quorum when minority members were not present.

 

Wisconsin’s fiscal bureau released a report on Jan. 31 stating that over half of the brand new budget shortfall on tax collections over the next three years  ($117 million out of a total $203 million) could be attributed to three of the new governor’s initiatives:

Special Session Senate Bill 2 (health savings accounts), Assembly Bill 3 (tax deductions/credits for relocated businesses), and Assembly Bill 7 (tax exclusion for new employees).

To extend on Assembly Bill 3, Walker is planning to increase the amount of economic development tax credits by $25 million. The state already has a similar program that has $73 million still on the table, just waiting to be used. Is this extra $25 million necessary?

Wisconsin isn’t even in need of austerity measures, according to the fiscal  bureau.  The state could even end the fiscal year with a surplus (without the new bill).

Upon taking office, Walker declared a state of “economic emergency (due to) years of mismanagement,” blaming this mainly on “burdensome regulation, taxes and costly litigation.” This emergency, Democrats charge, has been manufactured in a “Shock Doctrine” style in order to push a political agenda that would entrench Republican and private sector power by making it more difficult for workers to organize.

The elephant in the room is that when workers organize, they often are more likely to support Democrats.

Further, Walker is threatening to fire thousands of state employees if Senate Democrats do not return to Madison in the next week.

How are we to connect the dots between this bill and the 250,000 jobs Walker promised Wisconsin in his first term?

Republicans and their allies (Koch Industries, etc.) who financed Scott Walker’s campaign are very happy with the bill. I don’t see any job creation or balancing of the budget coming out of this, though.

Also this is a cool and entertaining piece by Rachel Maddow. It makes me proud to be a cheesehead transplant

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About Joe Doolen

I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. My aim is to write on science and international issues with a focus on environmental policy and justice. Topics range from local and domestic politics to international communications and culture, and anything cool about science really!!
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3 Responses to Austerity or Power-Grab?: Wisconsin reaps what was sown in November elections

  1. Victoria says:

    Ah, I love your links, videos, and pictures Joe. I made it to the Capitol several times this week, and was inspired by our fellow peaceful protestors. Well-done!

  2. Were you downtown partaking in the protests?

    I read about doctors handing out “sick” notes to anyone who wanted one — it was quite funny.

  3. Deborah Blum says:

    There’s some great journalism and assembling of important facts here, Joe. And a key point – the GOP is doing a great of job of teaching state what it means to put them into power here.

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