Monday, February 14, 2011

Forward. That's the Wisconsin state motto. Our new governor is calling it into serious question. Since arriving in the governor's office in January, Scott Walker has directed his state driver to put the peddle of his gleaming new SUV to the metal ... in reverse.

In my thirty nine years, I have never lived under such a retrograde governor. The likes of Mike Dukakis, Bill Weld, Madeleine Kunin, Dick Snelling, Howard Dean, Jim Doyle each stand in sharp contrast to the arrogance, spitefulness and wrong-headedness of Walker. I am ashamed that this man is the leader of our state. Nice going, Badgers.

Walker's proposal to close Wisconsin's current fiscal year budget deficit includes a de facto salary cut of more than 8 percent (in the form of greater contributions into the state pension system and for health benefits) for all state and university employees. The impact on the state economy -- and on the Madison area, in particular -- from the enactment of such a proposal will be enormous. It will be felt in the form of reduced state income tax revenues, lowered sales tax revenues from reduced purchasing power, and the likely closure of private sector businesses, especially in the retail sector. Standing in sharp contrast to his campaign pledge to create 250,000 jobs over the next four years, in just a month and a half in office Walker has already succeeded in driving high-speed rail and wind energy jobs out of state (primarily to Illinois) -- and this attack on public sector employees who are being asked to bear the entire burden of closing the budget deficit will further torpedo the state economy. Walker's proposal will cost the state $1.1 billion in lost economy activity, according to the Institute for Wisconsin's Future. And it could precipitate a brain drain from the public sector and from the state over time. But, that's OK -- high school grads can run the state.

The coup de grace (that's French, Mr. Walker) is the Governor's proposal -- that has nothing at all to do with the budget deficit -- to eliminate collective bargaining rights for all state employees, university employees, and state teachers. Walker is using the state's economic woes as cover to launch an overtly political attack on unions. He would restrict them from bargaining about anything other than salaries, and only salaries below the rate of inflation. Benefits, leave time, and working conditions would be off the table.

The governor also has issued an unprecedented threat on public employees, saying that he would call out the National Guard to quell any problems. All of these proposals are embedded within a budget repair bill, announced only on Friday afternoon and scheduled to be voted on Thursday by the rubber-stamp Republican-controlled Legislature. The only public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for today in a tiny room in the State Capitol. So much for public input.

What do you think the outcome will be?

That's right. Backwards.