Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has decided that the projected budget deficit for his state is so dire that it requires ending public employee rights to collectively bargain for anything besides wage increases. The revoking of collective bargaining rights is not just shameful, but it goes against the very history of my home state, which passed one of the first state collective bargaining laws for public employees in 1959 under Gov. Gaylord Nelson. This proposal is an attack on the freedom of association, not a proposal to reduce the state budget.
The current shortfall in the budget can be laid solely on the shoulders of Scott Walker. On January 31, the state’s Fiscal Bureau sent memos to Wisconsin state legislators stating that the budget would have a surplus at the end of the year of $121.4 million. Walker claims that there will now be a shortfall of $137 million at the end of the year. How did this happen? Simple: Walker approved $140 million in new state spending, including $48 million for private health savings accounts and $67 million in tax incentives for employers to spur hiring.
Walker has taken a budget surplus for the year and turned it into a deficit, all so he can take away the collective bargaining rights of state public employees. Did the state public employees create the Wisconsin state budget deficit? I don’t think so. As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post said, “There was no sharp rise in collective bargaining in 2006 and 2007, no major reforms of the country’s labor laws, no dramatic change in how unions organize. And yet, state budgets collapsed; revenues plummeted. Taxes had to go up, and spending had to go down, all across the country.” How did these deficits happen?
Wall Street was allowed to regulate itself, without bans on over-the-counter traded financial derivatives, without financial speculation taxes, and without a ban on predatory lending, such as the subprime mortgage with variable interest rates. Wall Street knew that it was overleveraging itself when it lobbied for a reduction in the SEC capital-debt ratio requirements, but greed couldn’t stop it from following narrow self-interest.
The five biggest financial firms in the U.S. held 96 percent of all U.S. derivatives. When these derivatives became worthless after the housing collapse, what did they expect to happen? With all of the interdependent counter-party risk, the financial and economic system as a whole was just short of a complete and disastrous collapse, something that the Glass-Stegall Act could have prevented, had it not been revoked in the 1990s by corporate Republicans and President Bill Clinton.
We now find ourselves forgetting about how the economy collapsed. It wasn’t because unions were demanding excessive wages and putting businesses out of business. Two-thirds of all U.S. corporations don’t pay any income tax at all. The only way you should believe that unions are putting corporations out into the streets as homeless “legal persons” is if you watch Neil Cavuto and Fox News after all, it is “fair and balanced.” Instead of helping American workers with their problems, Walker has decided to aggravate their problems.
Walker claimed that state senate Democrats who left the capital “failed to do their jobs” and also said “democracy is not about hiding in another state.” What is democracy? Is it ending the right of public employees to collectively bargain about working conditions? About health care coverage? How about discussing with a “fake” billionaire, David Koch, the planting of troublemakers in the crowd of protesters in Madison to discredit them as radical and out of touch with the mainstream?
It is ironic that Walker claims to support democratic means, yet he intends to destroy a great right for state public employees that involves democratic processes, which were fought for by Wisconsin people such as Robert LaFollette in the past.
Democracy is showing its true colors in Madison, where almost 100,000 people protested in one day. I also participated in the protests during my spring break, although the protesters were smaller in numbers, their passion and concerns were exactly the same. Protests aren’t constrained to Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. They happen all over the world when people are oppressed. As a protester in Egypt had written on a sign, “Egypt Supports Wisconsin Workers: One World, One Pain.” Maybe Walker will see that his policies aren’t supported by the Wisconsin people, they are opposed by the Wisconsin people.