Tomorrow is the big recall vote in Wisconsin and, while it's far from certain how things will turn out, most polls are looking pretty good for the target of the action, Gov. Scott Walker, who is beating his challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by about 5 points to 7 points in most polls. Those polls are a week old or so, so who knows how they are going to turn out.
But when the Reason-Rupe poll took the pulse of Wisconsin residents May 14-18th, it found that about 71 percent of adults favored public sector workers increasing the amount they pay for their health benefits (from 6 percent to 12 percent of premiums) and pensions (from less than 1 percent to 6 percent of salary).
Which suggests that whether Walker gets booted or not, government workers are going to have to kick in more for benefits. At least if the voters have any say in the matter. Wisconsin is a high-tax state that is part of an industrial Midwest that had serious problems long before the current recession. The whole area is not lighting any fires economically and public-sector workers enjoy higher levels of total compensation than similar workers in the private sector. That's the essential backdrop for Walker's move to eliminate collective bargaining at the state level for benefits: The state can't particularly tax its way out of the situation and it makes sense that public-sector workers should pay more for their benefits.
Or, to hear the legacy media folks tell it, this is really about Kansas billionaires against the little guy. Take it away, Esquire's Charles P. Pierce:
Scott Walker [is] the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage its midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin….
In 2010, in addition to handing the House of Representatives over to a pack of nihilistic vandals, the Koch Brothers and the rest of the sugar daddies of the Right poured millions into various state campaigns. This produced a crop of governors and state legislators wholly owned and operated by those corporate interests and utterly unmoored from the constituencies they were elected to serve. In turn, these folks enacted various policies, and produced various laws, guaranteed to do nothing except reinforce the power of the people who put them in office. This is the first real test of democracy against the money power. Its true national import is that it is the first loud and noisy attempt to roll back the amok time that Republican governors and their pet legislatures have unleashed in the states at the behest of the corporate interests who finance their careers. It is the first serious pushback not only against Scott Walker, but against Dick Snyder's assault on democracy in Michigan, and Mitch Daniels's assault on unions in Indiana, and Rick Scott's assault on voting rights in Florida. None of this was in any way coincidental. It was a national strategy played out in a series of statewide episodes, aimed at establishing the habits of oligarchy on a local basis.
From the above sort of writing, you wouldn't know that, for instance, that Walker's budget increases total outlays over the next two-year cycle, that tax cuts amount to 1 percent of projected tax revenue, or that Wisconsin's unemployment rate is well below the national average.
If this sort of fact-free invective, however grammatically impressive and (judging from the pictures available online) transparently self-referential, is what passes for critical analysis of how to fix the budgets and futures of broke-down and busted state coffers, good luck to progressives the world over. It was nice knowing you.
Watch "3 Lies About the Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Recall," originally released on May 17, 2012:
Here's the original text for the video:
Ever since he took on Wisconsin's teachers unions and denied them collective bargaining rights, Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been Public Enemey No. 1 for public-sector unions all over the country. Walker faces a recall election on June 5th and may well be chased out of the governor's mansion after just one year in office.
Is Walker the heartless budget-cutter his opponents claim - slashing spending, cutting taxes, and driving Wisconsin's economy into a sinkhole?
Hardly. Here are three lies at the heart of the Wisconsin Recall.
Lie #1: Gov. Walker Cut Spending
Gov. Walker has cut the rate at which Wisconsin's state budget is growing, but he hasn't actually cut spending. In fact, the state's biennial budget is scheduled to increase by about 3 percent on Walker's watch, rising from $62.6 billion (2009-11) to $64.3 billion (2011-13).
A big reason for that bump is that Walker's budget includes a historic increase in state spending on Medicaid, after the federal government cut its contribution to the state-run health insurance program for the poor.
Walker has been widely vilified for a 7 percent cut in state aid to schools over two years, which he says will be paid for by cost-saving measures such as requiring teachers to kick in more for their pensions and healthcare.
But the bottom line is that Walker hasn't actually cut overall state spending.
Lie #2: Gov. Walker Slashed Taxes
Gov. Walker's tax cuts will save Wisconsonites about $136 million dollars[*] in the next fiscal year, which is just 1 percent of the total tax money the state collects.
It's not like Wisconsin is some sort of under-taxed haven. In 2009, the Tax Foundation ranked Wisconsin as having the fourth-highest combined state and local tax burden in the country. If cutting taxes and letting individuals spend their own money is a way to spark economic activity, Wisconsin still has a long way to go.
Lie #3 Gov. Walker Destroyed Jobs
Walker's supporters are pointing to another jobs survey that shows an increase of 23,000 jobs over the same period.
Whichever's more accurate, these numbers represent neither catastrophe nor triumph since they account for less than 1 percent Wisconsin's labor force.
One thing that both sides can agree on is that Wisconsin's unemployment rate of 6.8 percent is well below the national average of 8.1 percent.
There's no doubt that Wisconsin's economy has plenty of room for improvement. That'll only happen if Gov. Walker can get serious about cutting taxes and spending.
[*]: The Wisconsin's Legislative Fiscal Bureau's June 2011 tally of Walker's tax cuts was completed before passage of Act 212, which brought an additional tax reduction of $1.3 million next fiscal year.
Written by Jim Epstein and Nick Gillespie.
About 3.30 minutes.
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