WASHINGTON — Public employees around the country have become the nation’s scapegoats for the rough economy, with many Republican politicians in recent months criticizing them as privileged, overpaid and underworked — unlike their private sector counterparts. But in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) is now in hot water, facing an overwhelming backlash from the state’s residents. Wisconsin is facing a $137 million budget deficit. In order to close it, Walker wants to sharply curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions, effectively preventing them from negotiating benefits, hours and working conditions. (They would, however, still be able to bargain over base wages, and Walker decided to exempt firefighters and police workers from his measure.) Public workers would also have to contribute more money toward pension and health insurance plans.
You almost have to pity Scott Walker. He’s been the Governor of Wisconsin for six weeks, and he’s already managed to turn the State Capitol in Madison into a frigid version of Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Sure, he’ll tell you, he’s just trying to balance Wisconsin’s budget. Unfortunately, he sees no problem with doing it on the backs of public employees. Madison may be a long way from Cairo, but it’s really just a variation on the same theme- people are mad as Hell…and they’re not going to take it anymore. The good news is that at least Gov. Walker doesn’t have to deal with the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, eh??
No reasonable person could dispute that times are tough for state governments, and Wisconsin is certainly no different. What’s different about Gov. Walker’s approach is that it seems to be more ideological than practical, more about union-busting and showing Wisconsin’s 175,000 public employees who’s boss. The question that Walker seems unwilling to ask is if there might be alternate means available that would achieve his goal of balancing the state budget. Why does it have to be about union-busting and taking back the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin’s public employees? Why must public employees be solely responsible for bearing the sacrifices demanded by Gov. Walker when 2/3 of corporations in Wisconsin PAY NO TAXES?
If Wisconsin’s budget crisis is as dire as Gov. Walker insists it is (and it may well be), why are public employees the only ones expected to give anything back? And why are police and firemen (whose unions endorsed Walker) exempt from the sacrifices demanded of public employees? Gov. Walker has stated that the state can save $165 million dollars by the end of June simply by restructuring its debt. Why is that avenue not being pursued? And why are corporations, whose tax burden has fallen by one-half since 1981, not also being asked to step up and share some of the pain?
Oh, right; public employees and their unions are living large sucking at the public teat…and it’s time to show them that the gravy train has stopped running. There’s a new sheriff in town, and public employees will do what they’re told, accept what they’re given…or they can find real jobs.
Times are tough. Americans understand that…but “times are tough” shouldn’t be taken as an invitation for radical Tea Party Republicans to put the whip to public employees in a callous attempt to roll back generations of hard-won gains. I think most of us would understand the need to sacrifice if the pain is being shared; we’re reasonable and we want government to work. What Americans generally won’t, and shouldn’t have to, stand for is the expectation that public employees need to suck it up and take the hit when no other segment of the population is expected to sacrifice anything.
Talking about starting off his term on the wrong foot…. Gov. Walker’s efforts have fallen so flat that, not only are protesters sleeping in the rotunda of the state capitol in Madison, even the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers have issued a statement condemning Walker’s intentions. And, in a sign that President Obama may finally be willing to take a stand on something, his campaign organization is helping to mobilize support for the protesters in Madison.
Oh, and let’s not even get started on Gov. Walker’s threats to call out the Wisconsin National Guard to take the place of public employees unhappy about his “budget repair bill”. And what does it say about a leader when he’s reduced to intimidation tactics against some of the very same people who elected him? What does it say about a leader when he’s so convinced of the righteousness of his cause that he refuses to even negotiate with unions? The truly sad part for Walker is that, though he hasn’t been in office even two months, a significant number of his constituents now view him as a dictator. One columnist is now referring to him as “Hosni” Walker, though that might well be an insult to former Egyptian President Mubarak. The good news is that things can only go up from here, eh??
It’s very likely that sacrifices will required in order for Gov. Walker to balance his state’s budget…and I really think that public employees and their unions understand and recognize that reality. They have a vested interest in Wisconsin’s continued fiscal health. Still, I don’t think that public employees are at all unjustified in their outrage. If Gov. Walker insists on trying to balance the budget on the backs of public employees while simultaneously rolling back their collective bargaining rights, his reign as Governor promises to be brutish, painful, and short. The moral of this story is that this isn’t really about balancing the budget; it’s a frontal assault on public employees and their unions by a devoted ideologue who detests both. With Democrats in Wisconsin’s Senate rebelling and leaving the body without a quorum, I’m guessing that Gov. Walker is facing a very lonely road ahead…especially since Republican support for his tactics seems to be crumbling as the outrage rises.
Yo, Governor! I think you got some ‘splainin’ to do…and some bridges to rebuild…that’s if you actually give a damn, that is.