He also wants to weaken most public-sector unions by sharply curtailing their collective bargaining rights.
Mr. Walker said he had no other options, since he is facing a deficit of $137 million in the current state budget and the prospect of a $3.6 billion hole in the coming two-year budget.
“For us, it’s simple,” said Mr. Walker said, whose family home was surrounded by angry workers this week, prompting the police to close the street. “We’re broke.”
For months, state and local officials around the country have tackled their budget problems by finding trims here and there, apologetically resorting to layoffs, and searching for accounting moves to limp through one more year.
Events in Wisconsin this week, though, are a sign of something new: No more apologies, no half-measures. Given the dire straits of budgets around the country, other state leaders may be forced to take similarly drastic steps with state workers, pension and unions.
“I’m sure we’re going to hear more from other states where Republican governors are trying to heap the entire burden of the financial crisis on public employees and public employees unions,” said William B. Gould IV, a labor law professor at Stanford University and a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.
“I think it’s quite possible that if they’re successful in doing this, a lot of other Republican governors will emulate this,” Mr. Gould added.
Here, in a state with a long history of union politics, Mr. Walker’s plan was upending life in the capital city.
Madison schools were closed on Wednesday after many employees called in sick to help lobby. Thousands of teachers, state workers and students filled a square around the Capitol, chanting “kill the bill” and waving signs (some likening Mr. Walker to a “dictator” and demanding his recall).
And a public hearing on the issue that had started at 10 a.m. on Tuesday ran through the night and into Wednesday afternoon, as protesters with sleeping bags camped out near the Capitol’s rotunda and bleary-eyed lawmakers gulped coffee from paper cups.
Protesters shared stories of their families’ deep history in unions, people struggling to pay their mortgages, workers considering moving away, switching careers, retiring.
Kim Hoffman, a middle school music teacher, said she and her husband, also a teacher, would lose $1,200 a month under the plan — too deep a cut for her and her family to manage.
“I love teaching, but I’d have to start looking for another job, period,” she said.
While union leaders here set up makeshift offices inside the Capitol itself, distributing flyers and planning vigils and “teach-outs,” national officials from more than a dozen unions had pledged millions of dollars, as well as phone banks and volunteers, to block such efforts in Wisconsin - and elsewhere.
“We view the events in Wisconsin as one of the worst attacks on workers’ rights and their voices in the workplace that we’ve ever seen,” said Kim Anderson, director of government relations for the National Education Association, where more than 150 people were making calls to teachers and union supporters in Wisconsin, urging them to demonstrate or call lawmakers.
Already, tensions were rising in other states, particularly in places where Republican victories in November have altered the political landscape.
Earlier this week, in Ohio, workers protested outside the Statehouse in Columbus to protest a bill that would limit collective bargaining for state employees there. In Indianapolis, teachers rallied against a bill that would limit contract bargaining for teachers unions. In Tennessee, a legislative committee was considering a similar bill.
For his part, Mr. Walker said he did not believe that most Wisconsin residents had a problem with his proposals. In a tour around the state — to private companies — on Tuesday, Mr. Walker said he spoke with plenty of private employees who told of paying far more for their retirement plans and health care than Mr. Walker is now seeking from state workers.
Mr. Walker would require government workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their pay to their pensions, where most now pay far less, and require state employees to pay at least 12.6 percent of health care premiums (most pay about 6 percent now).
Some national polls, too, have suggested that many people would support cuts to the pensions and benefits of public workers.
“To the average citizen — to middle class, working class families — they’re paying a whole lot more right now,” Mr. Walker said. As recently as Wednesday morning, Mr. Walker spoke by phone with Gov. John Kasich of Ohio — a chance to “commiserate” a bit, he said.
“Obviously there is a lot of protest out there, but in the end, it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Walker said. “We both kind of agreed that we got elected to solve problems. We didn’t get elected to worry about the politics.”
Lawmakers here were expected to vote on the issue by week’s end. Into the evening on Wednesday, there was talk that lawmakers might amend the plan, perhaps to restore some union bargaining rights.
But many were predicting that the general outlines of Mr. Walker’s proposal might ultimately survive votes in the Assembly and Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans.
Still, some lawmakers here appeared rattled by the crowds cramming the building. [he should be - KILL THE BILL YOU A**HOLE!]
Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican leader in the state senate, slipped out of the Capitol Wednesday morning with his sunglasses on, head down. Protesters had appeared at his home earlier in the week, forcing his family (including his wife, who is herself a teacher) to go to elsewhere for a bit.
Walker gins up ‘crisis’ to reward cronies
There is no question that these are tough times, and they may require tough choices.
But Gov. Scott Walker is not making tough choices. He is making political choices, and they are designed not to balance budgets but to improve his political position and that of his party.
It is for this reason that the governor claims Wisconsin is in such deep financial trouble that Wisconsinites should view this as a crisis moment.
In fact, like just about every other state in the country, Wisconsin is managing in a weak economy. The difference is that Wisconsin is managing better -- or at least it had been managing better until Walker took over. Despite shortfalls in revenue following the economic downturn that hit its peak with the Bush-era stock market collapse, the state has balanced budgets, maintained basic services and high-quality schools, and kept employment and business development steadier than the rest of the country. It has managed so well, in fact, that the 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 Bureau memo -- which readers can access at http://legis.wisconsin.gov/lfb/Misc/2011_01_31Vos&Darling.pdf -- makes it clear that Walker did not inherit a budget that required a repair bill.
The facts are not debatable.
Because of the painful choices made by the previous Legislature, Wisconsin is in better shape fiscally than most states.
Wisconsin has lower unemployment than most states.
Wisconsin has better prospects for maintaining great schools, great public services and a great quality of life than most states, even in turbulent economic times.
Unfortunately, Walker has a political agenda that relies on the fantasy that Wisconsin is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Walker is not interested in balanced budgets, efficient government or meaningful job creation.
Walker is interested in gaming the system to benefit his political allies and campaign contributors.
To achieve that end, he has proposed a $137 million budget “repair” bill that he intends to use as a vehicle to:
1. Undermine the long-established collective bargaining rights of public employee unions, which have for 80 years been the strongest advocates for programs that serve the great mass of Wisconsinites, as opposed to wealthy elites and corporate special interests. As Racine’s Democratic state Rep. Cory Mason says, the governor’s bill is designed not with the purpose of getting the state’s finances in order but as “an assault on Wisconsin’s working families and political payback against unions who didn’t support Gov. Walker.”
2. Pay for schemes that redirect state tax dollars to wealthy individuals and corporate interests that have been sources of campaign funding for Walker’s fellow Republicans and special-interest campaigns on their behalf. As Madison’s Democratic state Rep. Brett Hulsey notes, the governor and legislators aligned with him have over the past month given away special-interest favors to every lobby group that came asking, creating zero jobs in the process “but increasing the deficit by more than $100 million.”
Actually, Hulsey’s being conservative in his estimate of how much money Walker and his allies have misappropriated for political purposes.
One Wisconsin Now, the progressive watchdog group that has provided the closest monitoring of Walker’s budgetary gamesmanship, explains:
“Since his inauguration in early January, Walker has approved $140 million in new special-interest spending that includes:
“• $25 million for an economic development fund for job creation that still has $73 million due to a lack of job creation. Walker is creating a $25 million hole which will not create or retain jobs.
“• $48 million for private health savings accounts, which primarily benefit the wealthy. A study from the federal Governmental Accountability Office showed the average adjusted gross income of HSA participants was $139,000 and nearly half of HSA participants reported withdrawing nothing from their HSA, evidence that it is serving as a tax shelter for wealthy participants.
“• $67 million for a tax shift plan, so ill-conceived that at best the benefit provided to ‘job creators’ would be less than a dollar a day per new job, and may be as little as 30 cents a day.”
State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, sums up this scheming accurately when he says: “In one fell swoop, Gov. Walker is trying to institute a sweeping radical and dangerous notion that will return Wisconsin to the days when land barons and railroad tycoons controlled the political elites in Madison.”
The bottom line is evident to anyone who cares to pay attention not to the spin but to the budget figures: Walker is manufacturing a fiscal “crisis” in order to achieve political goals.
Walker is not addressing a fiscal crisis.
He is not serving Wisconsin.
He is serving his own interest and those of the lobbyists who represent his campaign contributors.