Monday, February 21, 2011

Wisconsin Fight: It's Not About the Budget

PR Watch

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, in a February 20, 2011 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, exposed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's disingenuousness in linking restrictions on collective bargaining to a need to cut the state's budget. Wisconsin's unionized workers have declared they are ready to start contributing to their pensions and health care to help resolve the state's budget problems, Granholm pointed out. But despite extracting these financial concessions, Walker insists on trying to curtail unionized workers' right to collectively bargain. Granholm stated, "What is this [Scott Walker's effort] really exposed to be, but an attack on collective bargaining?...This is really about collective bargaining," and not cutting the state's budget.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker alleges that dismantling public sector collective bargaining rights is made necessary by a $3.6 billion deficit in the next budget, and a $137 million shortfall this year. Setting aside the fact that the ability to negotiate shifts, seniority, benefits and conditions of employment would have a negligible impact on the deficit, and looking beyond Walker's deceptive claim that the alternative to union-busting is to kick 200,000 children off Medicaid (called "false" by Politifact), how deep is the state's economic crisis?

Representative Mark Pocan (D- Madison) has looked more closely at the numbers and writes that the $3.6 billion deficit is bogus. The alleged deficit is based on $3.9 billion in new agency requests for the 2011-2013 budget, a 7.2% spending increase. However, these are merely requests, not dollars actually allocated or spent, and Pocan writes that the legislature never votes to grant 100% of agency requests: "I don't think there is a member in the legislature that would vote for [the requested budget increase]. In fact, I asked [Legislative Fiscal Bureau] Director [Robert] Lang when was the last time we gave agencies exactly what they requested and was told he couldn't think of one and he's been here decades."

For example, the state's non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reports that the difference between the amount requested for the 2009-2011 budget and the amount actually allocated was almost $3.5 billion, a sum nearly identical to Walker's alleged "deficit" for the next budget cycle. State agencies had requested a 9.7% increase but were actually granted a reduction of 2.6%.

For this year's budget, any shortfalls are a direct result of Walker's policies. The Fiscal Bureau told legislators in January that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million. The $137 million deficit Walker uses as an excuse to crush collective bargaining results from the tax cuts and incentives Walker has pushed through since taking office; this includes the loss of $48 million in revenue from private health savings account taxation, a move lauded by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce business lobby (who spent nearly $1 million on Walker's campaign).

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