Budget surplus squandered. New tax breaks for corporations created. Unemployment growing. This is Gov. Scott Walker's (Republican/Tea Party) record in his first months in office.
Barely 100 days into his term, Walker has focused almost exclusively on stripping public employees of their rights. His other accomplishment: big tax breaks for corporations that put Wisconsin's budget into fiscal jeopardy in the first place.
Upon entering office, Walker claimed he had to take drastic measures in order to balance the state's budget. Wisconsin, however, did not have a budget deficit, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau. That non-partisan state agency released a memo in January projecting a surplus for the state of $121.4 million dollars.
Walker manufactured the “budget crisis” by providing $116 million dollars in tax breaks to corporations, and now his new budget includes another $83 million in tax breaks for corporations and investors who do business elsewhere.
During the heated public protests, Walker refused to sit down with unions to help fix the Wisconsin budget. Public employee unions agreed to all of Walker’s fiscal demands, including higher healthcare premiums and contributions to their pensions. In fact, they agreed to the exact financial demands Walker said were needed to fix the budget. Walker refused to take yes for an answer, but only because he wanted to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of his state's public employees.
In the dead of night, Walker's allies in the Wisconsin state legislature passed a bill that stripped public workers of their collective bargaining rights under the guise of "fixing the budget." To ram it through, however, Republicans removed the very financial provisions that they said required them to take such desperate measure. In addition, they removed one of their own party members – who had expressed opposition to the bill – from a committee that needed to pass the bill before it could go for a full vote with a sympathetic member. Then in a move that has caused a state judge to block implementation of the law, the Republicans passed the bill without a single Democrat voting.
In a House Oversight Committee hearing this week, Walker admitted to Rep. Dennis Kucinich, R-Ohio, that stripping collective bargaining rights, and a host of other anti-union measures, would not save any taxpayer dollars.
Right-wing ideologues and Fox News pundits jumped into the fray with all kinds of wild claims. TV personality Bill O'Reilly described teacher salaries and benefits as "lavish." Other insisted that the Wisconsin pension needed to be fixed because it was about to bankrupt. None of these claims have a basis in reality.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, Wisconsin's public employees are actually undercompensated by 8.2 percent when compared to comparable private-sector employees.
Similarly, the nonpartisan Pew Center found that the Wisconsin state employee pension fund is 99.67 percent funded and is one of the healthiest in the nation.
The right-wing noise machine's claims simply don't match up to reality.
Now Wisconsin working families are beginning to feel the pinch of Walker's policies. At the end of March, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development released unemployment statistics revealing that joblessness grew in every county in Wisconsin except for one during February. This dire jobs picture could have been partially alleviated had not Walker, in one of his first acts as governor, rejected $800 million in federal funding for a high speed rail project that would have created an estimated 15,000 jobs in Wisconsin.
Walker’s first budget proposal demands huge cuts to education, seniors and health care to pay for tax cuts for the corporations that paid Walker's way into office. The budget proposal includes cuts of almost $900 million dollars to K-12 public education, cuts to programs for seniors that provide low-cost prescription drugs and in-home healthcare, and cuts to healthcare that could mean kicking 70,000 Wisconsinites off BadgerCare.
After creating a budget crisis, attacking public workers and promoting an economic slow-down, Walker seems mainly interested in following the ideological and political agenda of the Koch brothers, who donated over $43K to his campaign. In addition, the Koch brothers contributed over $1 million to the Republican Governor’s Association, which spent $65K in Wisconsin last fall on independent expenditures.
Photo by Sue Peacock/cc by 2.0/Flickr