Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker cut $117 million in taxes for businesses, and then asks state labor unions to take the hit. What is wrong here?
UPDATE: It has been pointed out to us that Walker’s $117 million in business tax breaks are not part of Wisconsin’s $137 million budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2011, ending June 30, 2011. It will, however, create a budget shortfall for the 2011-2013 two-year budget. The state is expected to overspend by $258 million, through a combination of healthcare expenditures for the poor, prisons and debts to Minnesota. (If the $258 million is not spent, then Wisconsin will have a budget surplus of $121 million). It is these expenditures that Walker is looking to cut, and is attempting to do so by unilaterally short-circuiting the state labor unions’ collective bargaining rights.
Wisconsin’s resident dictator has made a national name for himself by focusing Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled government on attacking state labor unions. Walker could have avoided villain status by actually allowing the unions to collectively bargain and asking them to take some cuts while the economy is in the toilet—but he chose to go another way and make what amounts to an opening salvo in the 2012 elections.
The unions would probably have agreed to some cuts — reasonable cuts, that is. Having been in Wisconsin recently, with family members on both sides of the debate (business owners, teachers), I can tell all of my readers from first-hand experience that non-union workers and business owners believe it is reasonable for unions to take some cuts. And the union members aren’t so much pissed about the proposed cuts (they understand economics), as they are that Walker decided to unilaterally take away their collective bargaining rights.
Why join a union if it is powerless to negotiate? The issues here are literally putting Wisconsin families at odds with one another.
What many Wisconsin residents don’t know, however, is that the budget deficit that so concerns Walker is self-inflicted. It is manufactured, whether intentionally or unintentionally, by a pro-corporate philosophy that rewards wealthy businessmen and does virtually nothing for average workers.
Why haven’t Wisconsin’s voters been up in arms that Walker cut $117 million in taxes for businesses, which will create a budget shortfall in the next two fiscal years? If this sort of information were blazing across Wisconsin television screens and on the cover of newspapers, it would certainly neutralize Walker’s political gamesmanship.
Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau (the equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO) predicted a budget surplus (see update above). And not only does he remain silent about his actions with the business tax cuts, he has the audacity to use it as a means of neutralizing unions on behalf of business owners.
Walker might have scored some points with Wisconsin voters if he had publicly stated, “I gave tax cuts to businesses in an effort to stimulate the economy,” and then took aim at wasteful government spending elsewhere, while bringing the unions to the table to negotiate pensions and healthcare. He could have brought the Democrats into the process, and democracy could have served its intended purpose.
But he hijacked the entire process, sending Wisconsin’s Democratic Senators scattering to others states.
Walker’s actions amount to a pro-business, anti-union stance that cannot be chalked up to mere austerity measures. It is electoral gamesmanship—an opening chess move for the 2012 elections.
Everyone would like to see businesses do well and for workers to benefit from a healthy economy—but not by the dismantling of unions, which, though they have their problems like any large organization, do serve a purpose: allowing them to check their employers and guard against the sort of tyranny that Walker has embraced.