Tuesday, February 22, 2011
"Revolution" in Wisconsin!
I have purposely avoided writing about politics on this blog. I never wanted to stir up the comment and flaming rages that occur on some websites. But I think on this issue, I must. Hit the button Read More to see my opinion.
Our fine state of Wisconsin has made national news for the last week. In case you have not been keeping up -- we have a new Republican governor and our state legislature has changed after the last election so that it has a majority of Republicans, similar to what happened in other states and at the federal level. The Republicans were elected to change the way government is being conducted, to try to cut spending and balance the budget without raising taxes. Our fair state like many in the nation now has a deficit, ours amounting to 3.6 billion dollars predicted for this current year of 2011. With all due respect, our previous Democratic Governor Doyle spent us into a 1.9 billion dollar deficit by enacting programs that were funded in some degree by the Federal Stimulus Package, but that will end in July. It is a fact that that same Governor also used very creative accounting and also actually stole from various protected funds to finance the state operating budget. He had arranged to spend almost 6 months worth of the 2011 spending on certain programs in the year 2010, so that there is now a deficit to fund those programs. He stole 200 million from the Doctors' Patient Compensation Fund and used it for operating expenses. That "steal" has now been found to be illegal by our state Judicial, so it needs to be paid back. He also stole money from the Department of Transportation and various other places in order to "balance his budget." All these changes, plus the economic times, and the absence of stimulus money as of July all contribute to a state that is basicly "broke." Our new Governor and the new Republican legislators were elected to change all this. Tough work must be done to cut spending and things need to change.
Wisconsin also has been losing businesses for the last couple decades. Businesses are moving out of the state partly because of taxation levels, but some efforts have been made to improve taxes for business. Previously our state was number 5 and number 9 as the most taxed state in the union, but now we are at number 14. A little better. But the business climate is still very hostile mostly because we have complete penetration of labor unions in the state and we are not a Right to Work state. As I understand that, it means that unions that get into a business or workplace can require that all workers in the business are labor union members. This gives the unions huge collective bargaining abilities and makes it very difficult for businesses to control costs or even negotiate changes in benefits, employment contracts, etc. These "hostile to business" conditions have led to a loss of manufacturing and loss of many other businesses from the state. Therefore we lose jobs, and we lose tax revenue. This has also contributed strongly to our poor economic status. Our former Democratic Governor tried to remedy some of this by trying to negotiate with the Teachers' Union, WEAC for example but that Union specifically would not budge and would not come to the negotiation table through two years of attempts by Governor Doyle. The example of the Teachers' Union is the first to come to the attention of the nation. Teachers have very good benefits: retirement benefits that continue for life and are put away with very minimal contribution of the employee. Teachers' health care is funded with very small contributions from the teachers. This is the setting for our new Governor Walker's first major step to balance the budget. A bill now stands before the State of Wisconsin Senate to have more of a contribution to retirement by teachers and to ask them to increase the percentage of their health care that they pay from 1/2% to I believe 3 or 4%. But most biting to the Teachers' Union, the bill would limit considerably the rights to collective bargaining. This bill would also limit all other government workers to the same collective bargaining restrictions except for emergency workers: ie police and firefighters. I believe this is Scott Walker's first attempt to cut some of the power of the state's labor unions and to move us toward becoming a Right to Work state. In summery this is the steps leading up to these remarkable protests in the state capitol.
Now several things have happened. First there has been a huge outpouring of protestation by mostly the Teachers' Union, but I think other public workers have joined the protest to some degree. Tens of thousands of mostly teachers have stormed the State Capitol building and have occupied its public areas and hallways, shouting, beating drums and carrying placards. They are basicly camping out inside the capitol. Teachers have left their schools from all over the state to join this protest. Some schools were forced to close because they had no teachers and some announced that they would close last Thursday and Friday. Other schools attempted to open but so many teachers "called in sick" that they did not have enough staffing to accept children. Parents were dropping off their children at the school in the morning on their way to their own jobs and were met by the principal and secretary and told that their children could not be left there because there was no staffing. What were these parents to do now? They had no knowledge of this in advance and now needed to return home and could not go to work. Work places then found themselves without enough staff as well. The Milwaukee Public School system announced that they would stay open. Administration encouraged their teachers to come to work. In the central city being open is especially important because many inner city children, perhaps as many as 50 or 60% in some schools depend on the school for breakfast and lunch, and even for health care, not only learning. The administrators told this to WEAC callers when they phoned to encouragre union members to not got to work at their schools the next day. WEAC's answer was that it did not matter; teachers should still not go to work. The protest and "killing the bill" would be more important in the long run. Some teachers regarded this whole protest movement as a "teachable moment" and even took their classes to the protest. Can you believe it? Since in order to save their job back at their own schools, these teachers who had called in sick needed notes from their doctors, so low and behold here were at least two doctors who worked for a state clinic signing sick excuses. To me this is lying, unethical and unprofessional. The media announced that this action would be investigated. Notably there were no doctors there signing excuses on Monday. Of course, that might be because many schools were out due to it being President's Day.
Then the 14 Democratic Senators left town. The Republicans have 19 members. But to vote on budgetary issues, a quorum is needed. One more Senator is required to achieve a quorum. So all 14 Democratic Senators have been moving from hotel/motel to hotel/motel in Illinois running away. They have been moving so that no one can find out where they are. They are relatively safe however, because Wisconsin State Patrol can not go into another state to get them. Apparently they are going to hang out as long as need be. This basicly paralyzes the government when it comes to enacting financial bills. March 4 is some sort of deadline to provide payment for some services. So we may be in a bigger mess.
The Assembly Democrats came to the assembly but were stalling for time and came to work with orange T shirts under their suit coats and began a shouting spree to disrupt the proceedings. They complained that they were not waited for before the Assembly started their proceedings. They accused the Assembly Republicans of starting proceedings without waiting for them. Well, there were news bytes on the media that stated the Assembly was meeting and would take up the same Budgetary Bill. So the Democrats knew; they were just trying to disrupt proceedings. Their yelling amounted to complaints about starting without them. The Assembly can pass the bill because they have a quorum without the Democrats.
Many other states are in similar trouble for many of the same reasons. So if this Bill succeeds in being passed, the same bills will be introduced in many other states. There will be moves also to make other states Right to Work states. This then becomes a national issue. Also President OBama and the National Democratic Committee regard Wisconsin as a pivotal state in the next Presidential election. For all these reasons people are being transported to Madison to protest from many other states and are being sent in by the Democratic party as well. Our friend, Jesse Jackson was here last week beating the drum. Hence the persistance of this problem. It has become a national issue. The Tea Party sent busloads of counter protestors last week and probably will continue to do that.
I can see why the public employees do not want to give up their health care and retirement benefits at the previous rate of payment. That is only human. And of course, the collective bargaining part is of concern to some. But I agree that we have to cut spending, balance the budget without raising taxes, and we do need to reduce union choke holds on businesses. Therefore I am in favor of Governor Walker's bill. But what I am most angry about is the lack of ethics being demonstrated by the opponents of this bill. The protestors taking off school, the doctors writing them excuses, the Senators running out of the state, and the Assemblymen just disrupting proceedings without any contructive attempt to provide another answer.
Then I had a confrontation with a woman that I swim with in water aerobics. She is a sweet older woman but she demonstrated she is living in La-La-Land. She thinks that we are in this deep economic do-do only because Governor Walker is spending all kinds of money. (He wants to give 140 million in tax cuts to small business in the state.) She equates this with rich businesses and thinks that within 6 weeks of him taking office he has run up the 3.6 billion dollar deficit. She thinks that the budget was perfecting balanced and everything was hunky dorry before he took office. These are the people that really make me made. So many people are living in La La Land and voting to spend and spend and spend. Our forefathers that established this country had the correct idea. Only taxpayers should be able to vote on financial issues, not those that don't pay tax. And I would add a requirement. Voters should need to pass a test of multiple questions in order to be able to vote. They should have certain knowledge before they are allowed to shape our future.
OK, I feel better! Do you feel better?