“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s new chief of staff, told a Wall Street Journal conference of top corporate chief executives shortly after the November 2008 election. “This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”
The crisis in Wisconsin seems to be the “Rahm moment” for the GOP’s allies—the Koch brothers, the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, the Chamber of Commerce, American Legislative Exchange Council, and the National Right to Work Committee—who have been waiting for the right opportunity to launch a frontal assault on workers’ rights. And in Wisconsin, with a willing governor, they found their beta test.
As state Rep. Mark Pocan, a Madison Democrat, said of the Wisconsin showdown, “The only way you can slip a bad policy into law in Wisconsin is to disguise it as something else. You create a crisis, claim you are the sole path to solving it, enact whatever measures are necessary, and be a hero to the people.”
Wisconsin’s retirement fund, according to the fedgazette, a publication of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, was praised for a series of responsible features in its pension design, leaving the program nearly 100 percent funded with the average new worker’s pension at $1,900 a month.
Wisconsin is indeed facing a budget crunch like most states. Revenue has fallen in the face of a weak economy, and now the stimulus funds which helped in 2009 and 2010 are now fading away. However, the crisis has nothing to do with the public sector unions. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Wisconsin, like 44 other states, has a budget problem. Wisconsin’s projected budget deficit for fiscal year 2012 is $1.8 billion, or 12.8 percent of the state’s total budget. A problem, absolutely, but a small one compared to the leading deficit distressed states: Nevada at 45.2 percent ( $1.5 billion); Illinois at 44.9 percent ($15.0 billion); New Jersey at 37.4 percent ($10.5 billion), and Texas at 31.5 percent ($13.4 billion). Nevada and Texas do not have collective bargaining for stat workers and yet they still are in a crisis. There is no correlation between the state budge deficits and public-sector union.
The previous Wisconsin governor, Democrat Jim Doyle, passed a budget that left the state poised for a surplus this year. When Walker took office in January he chipped away at that surplus with three conservative tax expenditure bills, but not severely enough to trigger a budget repair bill. The current, small shortfall was “manufactured by Governor Walker’s own insistence on making the deficit worse with the bills he passed in January,” Pat Kreitlow, a former Democratic senator in Wisconsin said. But Walker cited that shortfall to introduce a “budget repair bill” anyhow — a fully elective move that includes his plan to end collective bargaining rights for state employees.
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.
And here’s a little-noted statistic: According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, two-thirds of corporations in the state pay no taxes, and the share of corporate tax revenue funding state operations has fallen by half since 1981. This statistic is the same in most states and at the national level.
Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.
Governor Walker exemption of the police, firefighters and other public union that supported him last November so that his actions with this current bill have nothing to do with the crisis but are completely a power grab to limit middle- and working-class Americans say in the political process.
Progressive Change Campaign Committee have put together an open letter – Stand in solidarity against Walker’s radical proposal and threats. Click here to sign in solidarity.