Maybe it’s a hangover from the Super Bowl, but the folks up in Wisconsin have gone a little wacky on us.
Last Friday, GOP Gov. Scott Walker announced a surprise bill to immediately strip some 170,000 state and local workers — teachers, clerks, etc., — of their unionized negotiating rights as well as the right to deduct union dues from their paychecks. The legislation also mandates that unionized state workers pay significantly more for pension and health-insurance benefits. To justify the change, Walker has cited a $137 million projected deficit in the current state budget.
The announcement shocked the state labor movement, which has responded with large protests, demonstrations and sleep-ins at the Capitol. Thousands of teachers have refused to report to class. President Obama has weighed in, saying that while pay freezes and other moves might be necessary in these times, the scale and intensity of Walker’s proposal make it look like “an assault on unions.”
And as it turns out, the projected deficit cited by Walker is largely the result of pro-business legislation that he and his fellow Republicans passed last month. (Republicans control the Assembly 60-38-1 and the Senate 19-14). As a Madison newspaper reports in an editorial:
“(The state’s) nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently released a memo detailing how the state will end the 2009-2011 budget biennium with a budget surplus.
In its Jan. 31 memo to legislators on the condition of the state’s budget, the Fiscal Bureau determined that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.
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.”
The fiscal office report does indeed make those claims.
So a couple of hours ago, with the Senate about to vote on the measure, Senate Democrats just disappeared. Reports are they have fled the state altogether, but thems that know ain’t talking. And without at least one Democrat in the chamber, Senate Republicans don’t have a legal quorum and can’t take a vote. I guess you can say the Democrats have gone on strike.
The standoff is almost certain to have national consequences, potentially analogous in some respects to President Reagan’s decision to fire the striking air traffic controllers.
– Jay Bookman