Saturday, February 19, 2011

Walker's Trojan Horse.

Hi everyone,

Someone clearly zapped Wisconsin with the old May you live in interesting times curse. But you do have to admit, Democracy is still better than all the other alternatives.

Saturday's column

Walker’s Trojan Horse

Budget fixes abound without going nuclear

As we approach my final column next week I thought I might describe the wonderful new professional opportunities that have come on line during the last few months (election to the board of directors of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, a paper I’m presenting at a national conference on popular culture in April, and a chapter for an anthology on political philosophy I have to finish up over the summer). Or, since that probably sounds like snoresville to most people, I thought I might regale you with my adventures as a member of the Milwaukee Ukulele Club and the designated master of ceremonies for next September’s Third Annual Milwaukee Ukulele Festival (find us at or on Facebook!).

But then Gov. Walker decided to go nuclear.

First of all, nothing Gov. Walker has done should surprise anyone. “You have to dance with them what brought ya,” as my grandma used to say, and Mr. Walker is simply looking after the interests of the people who bankrolled his campaign. Those folks tend to hate unions, public employees and the idea that a government should work for people instead of for business. So far Mr. Walker is doing a good job for them. Even though the protest is drawing support from all over the United States, including our own Green Bay Packers, Walker is still the governor. Politics can be tough.

Second, there are a couple of inconvenient facts that Walker – and even the local news media – keep dancing around.

Walker’s budget is based on the claim that the state of Wisconsin is broke – that there’s a budget crisis – but, what if the crisis is a fake? What if it’s a Trojan Horse?

Here’s what I mean: on Jan. 31 the Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported that the state would end the year with a surplus of $121.4 million. A surplus? Well, it was a surplus until the governor’s “special session” pushed through $140 million in new special interest spending. Pretty special, eh? The facts are indisputable; if the Republicans in Madison hadn’t spent the money, there would have been no “crisis” to speak of and, therefore, no need for desperate measures.

Walker pulled the same trick in Milwaukee County in 2009 to privatize security at the Courthouse. The board cut his privatization plan out of the budget, but Walker used his super-veto powers and reinstated it. The board then overrode his veto, but Walker declared a fiscal “emergency” and privatized the guards anyway. See? He’s had practice at this. Ironically, the security jobs he took away from Wisconsin residents ended up going to people from Chicago and Florida.

But wait, what about that $3.6 billion debt in the next biennium. Isn’t that a “crisis”?


If we raised the sales tax by 1 percent, it’d bring in an extra $800 million a year. A few years of this (with a fireproof sunset clause!) would fix the problem. I’m opposed to sales taxes as a rule, since they’re regressive, but if this is all it would take, then what we have here is a budgetary concern – not a crisis.

So, the budget brouhaha is fake – but what if it goes through anyway? When it does, there are going to be repercussions, not just public employees, but for local businesses too.

There are 5,036 public employees living in Washington County. Each one of them will have their take home pay cut by roughly 8 percent or about $3,094 on average. It adds up to about 15.6 million fewer dollars spent in Washington County this year. That threatens a lot of your favorite restaurants and local merchants – people who work hard and have to compete against national chains with sweetheart tax deals.

But we can all help.

Folks, we’re going to have to spend locally. Try to hit locally owned restaurants and stores; shop at the farmers market this summer to support local farmers; and take a moment to think about ways to help keep the money you spend in Washington County IN Washington County.

I know that my colleagues over the on the Right Wing believe that the most important social relationships are economic ones, but they’ll never convince me we don’t have responsibilities to our country, our state, our city and especially to each other, that go beyond the Almighty Dollar.

At the end of the day, I don’t think they should convince you either.

So a final thought. Here’s what I keep wondering about as Big Money moves our jobs overseas, buys legislators to give it bigger and bigger tax cuts and shifts more and more of the tax burden to the middle-class.

Is this land made for you and me?

It’s something to think about.

Now, there's always a skunk in the woodpile and I missed a stinker.

The numbers I used from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau report were accurate... but because of the way the Wisconsin budget reports are written, it wasn't obvious at first that the apparent surplus did not include the infamous "restructured" debt... not obvious to me or to the 3 newspapers from which I got the initial numbers. If you'll check (just underneath the Flaming Lie Meter next to Governor Walker's claim that union negotiating rights will be left intact by this budget bill) you'll find the problematic numbers under a quote from Rachel Maddow... which, this morning, is off line -- too many hits perhaps, or under amendment.

But even Politifacts notes you have to check the fine print. The fine print suggests that the state budget was, adding in these carry over debts, PLUS the $100 something million the Governor tacked on for his friends during his special session, about $250million in the red. That's the calculation I'm seeing this morning. Apparently the hermaneutics are fluid right now. :^)

Having said that, however, there remains the question of whether this change in assumptions is a problem for my argument, which was: Given the simple, 1% solution, is this really a crisis?

I'll let you decide.

Another reinforcing bit of news that came in after my deadline, is that the unions took the money off the table and have said they'll accept the cuts. Governor Walker's response has been to ignore this -- which makes it appear as if collective bargaining was always the real target here rather than fixing the debt load.

The fact that everything in the state Republican play book was provided by Koch Enterprises also suggests the motivations here are political and, well, oligarchic rather than budgetary.



larryteufel said...

Tell us it ain't so! The Daily News has no worth without your column.

Mpeterson said...

On the other hand, things are in flux... so maybe I wasn't that far off:

"Walker will soon have to introduce an actual budget, which will outline spending and revenue policy for the two years between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2013. And the state's Legislative Fiscal Bureau -- the official scorekeeper -- does project that he'll face a $3 billion shortfall. But Democrats faced a shortfall twice as large ahead of the previous budget cycle and managed to close the gap." From TPM.

larryteufel said...

There has been some media reports that the fiscal crisis has been trumped up by Scott Walker and the Republicans. I am no fan of Scott Walker or the Republicans for that matter, but I do believe there is a deficit only because the state has had a deep decline in revenue. This has not been caused by the public workers. The cause is clearly the crooks in the financial sector. However, the public unions put the money Scott Walker wanted on the table. It's now obvious Walker isn't in this mess for the money. He wants to crush unions, middle class, and the Democrat party.

I'm saddened to hear your ending your column. I have enjoyed your thoughts and facts so very much. Best wishes to you. My hope is the Daily News will find someone else to replace your caliber. I will always wonder why the conservatives never questioned the ridiculous columns of Jessica Mc Bride, Mark Behling and the others but you have got them to react. I am thankful that Ann Coulter is gone from their pages.