“Can’t they just sit down and work it out?” the woman from Buffalo City asked me. She heard about the Governor’s plan to balance the budget by eliminating bargaining for public employees. The employees wanted to meet with the Governor who refused saying he had nothing to discuss.
Two years ago we faced a $6.6 billion budget hole. We filled the deficit with a balanced approach to spending and taxes that protected vital services and infrastructure. And now the state faces a deficit of only half that amount.
Last Friday, Governor Walker announced his “budget repair” plan which sparked mass rallies across the state and left citizens wondering what happened to Wisconsin’s tradition of peacefully resolving disputes.
What began as a widely expected plan to have teachers and all public employees pay more for health insurance and retirement grew into a power grab unprecedented in Wisconsin’s history. The Governor, who campaigned on smaller government, is creating a massive centralization of power by eliminating the board overseeing the UW Hospital System, removing authority from local towns, cities, villages and school districts and turning state employees into political appointments - ending a system created by Governor Bob La Follette in 1905.
Under the guise of repairing the budget, the Governor converts civil service jobs to political appointments. With vague language he allows conversion of every management job into a political appointment.
The Governor doesn’t out right repeal the civil service code but he accomplishes that effect. Take the changes he makes to political appointments, combine that with a provision giving political appointees power to terminate an employee who misses any three days of work or engages in any organizing activity after the Governor declares a state of emergency, you create political patronage. This is reminiscent of another time and place; certainly not Wisconsin.
It appears the Governor expects a state of emergency. He announced he met with the National Guard and placed them on alert. Supervisors at the Department of Corrections were asked to forward the “post orders” or general duties to the National Guard. Rumors at Wisconsin prisons are the Governor intends to use any altercation with the state correction employees as an excuse to send the Guard in to run the prisons and later privatize the entire state corrections system.
This proposal is on the fast-track. The bill is expected to have a public hearing on Tuesday and come before the full Senate and Assembly Thursday.
These actions follow a month of fast-tracked questionable bills such as exempting a single developer from all wetlands rules; requiring two-thirds majority for tax increases (negating a basic tenant of democracy - majority rules) and giving the Governor new regulatory authority over previously independent agencies like the UW system, Legislature, Judiciary and the Government Accountability Board. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called the latter action the “defanging” of the state’s watch dog.
And there is the proposal to change Wisconsin’s voting laws by passing the strictest photo voter ID bill in the nation estimated to disenfranchise thousands of voters.
The state’s challenging fiscal condition should not be used as a justification for the Governor’s actions. According to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau the state is not even required to pass a “budget repair” bill. If the Governor wants to get the state’s fiscal house in order by the end of this fiscal year, there is absolutely no need to destroy Wisconsin’s traditions of civil service, clean government, quality public schools and peaceful labor relations. Instead, he should face his adversaries and work out differences.
I fielded calls and emails from a more than two thousand citizens in the last few days. Everyone I talked with expected to contribute to helping the state weather this storm. But most say the suffering should be a shared sacrifice and not fall too hard on any one family. Many of the Governor’s supporters expressed deep concern about the Governor’s actions. I spoke with a woman from Tomah who is a Republican and voted for Walker. She said, “I know we needed change. But this is too extreme.”
I couldn’t agree more.