Wisconsinites are fed up with Governor Scott Walker.
His irresponsible and ineffective policies have been called into question before, both as executive of Milwaukee County, and as governor, when he canceled the Madison-to-Milwaukee high speed rail.
Walker rose to power decrying the “financial irresponsibility” that preceded him under Democrat Jim Doyle, and promising a “return to frugality,” considering that a more important ideal than quality of life for the 68,000 he would cut from BadgerCare. However, this promise was immediately broken on both personal and governmental levels: upon assuming office, he unabashedly rented a state-funded SUV costing $1,596.50 per month. Matching extravagance with extravagance, he signed three corporate tax cut bills into law that together cost Wisconsin $117 million. This blatant hypocrisy was called out by Democratic legislators in the state and numerous news sources, but it was largely ignored by the general public.
Now, less than two months into his four-year term of office, Walker has gone too far.
On February 11, he proposed a piece of legislation he called a “budget fix.” Even in his official description, the cracks in his then-popular legislative persona began to show. The bill, a travesty of gargantuan proportions, outlines a series of draconian measures designed to reduce the deficit on the backs of public employees, like teachers, nurses and EMTs:
- All public employees would be required to pay half of their pension payments, resulting in an effective average pay cut of 5.8%
- All public employees would be required to pay at least 12.6% of annual health care premiums out-of-pocket
- Wages would be frozen, and raises would be capped at inflation (*)
- Collective bargaining, the right of unions to negotiate with the government, would be eliminated — except for salary bargaining, which could not possibly have any effect anyway because of the raise cap (*)
The starred measures would not apply to police, firefighters, or state troopers. Why is this? Surely, if Walker believes his measures are beneficial to the state, he would not add any exclusions — which shows how transparent a political ploy this really is. The official reason given was that Wisconsin “could not afford” strikes from the above groups, but at least for police and firefighters, docking their pay would be seen as unpatriotic or ungrateful. But then why state troopers? A possible explanation will be given later.
Wisconsin has been rocked with a powerful wave of protests this week. National Budget Committee Chairman, Wisconsinite Paul Ryan compared Madison (where 30,000 are currently protesting) to Cairo. Public workers and students are opposing the bill both in Madison and around the state, where students held school walk-outs in protest. Even the Democratic state senators have joined in, suddenly disappearing from the legislature and boycotting the vote on the bill scheduled for today. In fact, every single one boarded a bus and left the state. Most are currently believed to be in Rockford, Illinois.
Without the Democratic senators, the State Senate was one senator short of quorum, forcing it to adjourn without a vote. Walker talked to Wisconsin State Patrol Chief Stephen Fitzgerald, and threatened to send the Patrol out to look for the elusive Democratic caucus. Incidentally, Stephen Fitzgerald has two sons. One of them is named Scott Fitzgerald, and is the State Senate Majority Leader. The other one is Jeff Fitzgerald, the State Assembly Speaker. To reiterate, the State Patrol is one of three organizations exempt from the Republicans’ harshest measures.
The protesters have been criticized by some fiscal conservatives, spouting drivel that “everyone must do their part” to fix the deficit, safe in their affluent neighborhoods and secured corporate positions. But this is about more than just the fact that Governor Walker is forcing unprecedented pay cuts on state workers in already shaky financial situations. This is more significant than his refusal to give them any raises at all, and that pledge’s enshrinement into state law. This is even about more than the fact that the rights of employees to collectively organize and bargain, a hard-earned liberty fought for by generations of previous workers, is being callously denied by an administration that cares more about the financial security of its corporate backers and tax cuts than about the futures of our teachers and nurses.
This is about the idea that the falsified talking points and irresponsible ideals of Governor Walker and his ilk can be used to run roughshod over the thousands of workers that serve the state itself, and drown out their cries with hollow invocations of sacrifice. This is about the Republican majorities in the Senate and Assembly caring more for the opinions of their corporate backers than for those of the teachers who serve selflessly, day in and day out. This is about the specter haunting Wisconsin that artificial deficits and fabricated concerns are more important than the rights and freedoms of very real people. #