One thing that's important to remember about the budget battle in Wisconsin is that when the new governor took office just over a month ago, the state still had a surplus.
That's right. There was no deficit. This made Wisconsin something of a rarity at a time when, following 30 years of Republican policies designed to sabotage government budgets, most states are drowning in a sea of red ink.
The new governor, a Koch-backed Teabagger named Scott Walker, needed a deficit so he could have an excuse to attack unions. So he created one, with some fake-out tax cuts. There was one, highly touted, that supposedly cut taxes for small businesses making over a half a million a year in revenues. Another permitted tax deductions on contributions to health savings accounts, and brought Wisconsin in line with 46 other states that have such. So far so good.
The REAL nature of the tax cuts, according to the blog One Wisconsin Now, were as follows:
$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. [Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 1/7/11]
$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. [Government Accountability Office, 4/1/08; Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 1/11/11]
$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. [Associated Press, 1/28/01]
The average “job creation” tax cut, according to Politifact, amounted to one dollar a year for each small business affected. Yes, you read that correctly. One dollar a day per job. You can apparently hire a lot of people for a dollar a day in Wisconsin. The HSA deduction will benefit roughly 1.3% of Wisconsin's taxpayers. That's right: one point three percent. Three guesses which end of the socio-economic spectrum they might reside on.
But it did what Walker wanted: it created a deficit where there hadn't been one before, so he could scream about implementing austerity measures.
Only he didn't offer anything in the way of cuts in services, or anything designed to [gawd ferbid] bring in more revenue. Instead, he came up with a bill to abolish collective bargaining by state employees.
That won't save the state a dime for several years, if ever. It means that without a union, the state will privatize everything they can, and outsourcing services ALWAYS costs more, and usually results in lower-quality employees, ones less accountable to the state government. When was the last time you met a Republican representative who gave a fuck about deficit spending unless it was to break unions, weaken Democrats, or screw the people?
But the new governor, a fascist disguised as a conservative, wants to break the unions. Fascists absolutely hate unions, and will do anything they can to destroy them. There is no room for power-sharing in that mindset.
So he presented his bill, and not only did the state unions explode (including the police and fire-fighter unions, who had supported him under the mistaken assumption that he was a conservative), but so did workers around the country. Suddenly there were huge demonstrations at the state capitol, and protests around the country. Liberal bloggers, spotting a similarity, started referring to Walker as “Hosni Walker”.
In a reprise of a redistricting scam in Texas authored by professional political outlaw Tom DeLay, the Democratic representatives bolted the state in order to deny to scofflaw Republican majorities in the state lege the quorum needed to pass the bill. In Texas, America's first third-world state, the Dems eventually lost, with the result that the state has grotesquely gerrymandered districts that manage to keep the white minority of the state in control. Shades of Boetha! Hopefully the Dems in Wisconsin will fare better.
The right wing noise machine sprang into action, of course. Faux News was claiming – falsely – that union employees were the reason Wisconsin had a deficit. On Friday, they had a correspondent in a very strange situation: a large burly sort was standing three feet from him, chanting “Fox lies!” over and over. Completely unfazed, he tried to engage the shouter in conversation, and the shouter just kept screaming “Fox Lies!”. The anchor suggested that perhaps the shouter would like a state-run station like Hosni Mubarak's TV which didn't show the protests after a couple of days.
Can you say “plant,” boys and girls? I knew you could! Oddly enough, the commentator didn't try to engage any of the hundreds others who were chanting the same thing.
The anti-union propaganda geared up rapidly. Many blogs got stories about a friend or neighbor or relative who was a retired teachers and “embarrassed to admit how big her pension was.” Gee, thirty years of wet-nursing mewling brats whose highest ambition is to be ignorant right wing assholes like mommy and daddy? Gee, I can't see any reason there to give them a pension, can you? One of the Republicans at the state house reportedly said teachers didn't deserve any special treatment (“special treatment” apparently means already-earned retirement pensions) because they don't “produce anything.” As if Republican representatives do.
Another anti-union whine is that cops get to retire at age 50 with full pension. Having already been overpaid as union employees to begin with. Most communities can't wait to get a full complement of underpaid 55 year old cops who can't afford to retire, right? It's not like cops take any risks or make any sacrifices, right?
This is the average salary (less benefits) of a state teacher over the average wage for a state:
Alabama 120%, Arkansas 117%, Arizona 130%, California 122%. I know this because the Teabag morons have been promoting it all over the blogosphere.
It's ironic that billionaires are spending lots of money getting their cultivated idiots in the Teabagger movement to parrot that line. Someone making 120% of what an “average” worker gets for the thankless task of educating children is someone getting undue and unearned privilege, it seems. At least, the people who whine copiously about having to pay 15% cap gains on their billions will tell you this.
Maybe people should ask themselves why, if these union employees make 120% of what they do, maybe they should join a union? Wouldn't you like a 20% raise, and bring your purchasing power back up to what it was in 1992?
Another yowl getting currency among the tin-foil soldiers of the right is that “unions are unconstitutional” and that FDR disapproved of public employee unions. The first is utter nonsense, of course: unions, like corporations, are groups of people banded together to further a mutual economic interest and act as a single legal entity. If unions are unconstitutional, so are corporations. As for FDR, he feared public employee unions becoming politically active and partisan—in short, an end-run around the laws that demolished the Spoils System. History has shown his fears to be unjustified. If there is danger of politicization of the bureaucracy (along with the courts and the military) it is from the fascist right, who love to take their stooges and dress them up in judges' robes and military costumes.
I really have to wonder what outside observers make of these morons who come piling out of their single-wides to take up the cause of eliminating cap-gain taxes and paying for it by cutting teachers' pay, benefits, pensions, and overall numbers, all in the name of reducing worker power.
We've had 30 years of Reaganomics, and all we have to show for it is fewer good jobs, poorer pay, and howls from the entitled class that it's not fair that they should have to pay ANYTHING for the upkeep of the country and the people they have spent a generation gutting.
A favorite line of plutocrats and their pet teabaggers is that they want to “take our country back.” A lot of the Teabaggers are stupid enough that they think it means standard conservative halcyon days of the 1950s when cars had fins, households only needed one wage earner on one job, Negroes knew their place, and teen pregnancy could be swept under the carpet, with illegitimate offspring dumped at orphanages for the priests to play with.
The fascists mean something else entirely. They aren't yearning for long ago days, unless perhaps it was the 1920s, or even the 1870s, when plutocrats nearly did take over the country entire. And when they talk about “taking our country back”, they really mean “taking the country,” period.
And they want to take it from us. That's why they want to break the power of the middle class, steal the pensions, and make Americans weak, subservient, and totally dependent on their employers for everything.
It's time this “taking” ended.
Posted: February 25, 2011