Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) has justified his attempt to strip many of Wisconsin’s public sector employees of their collective bargaining rights by pointing to the state’s budget deficit. “The legislation I’ve put forward is about one thing. It’s about balancing our budget now — and in the future,” Walker said in an address last night.
Today, Wisconsin’s Republican officials took to the airwaves to disseminate the message, with Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Sen. Ron Johnson both claiming that legislative union busting is necessary to fix Wisconsin’s budget woes:
LT. GOV. KLEEFISCH: These are facts and these are figures. There’s no negotiation on a budget that’s based on facts. We’re facing a $3.6 billion budget deficit in our next biennium. That means we need to have serious cuts…The collective bargaining is also a fiscal piece of this.
SEN. JOHNSON: Gov. Walker, this was dumped in his lap. A $3.6 billion biennial budget deficit. And he’s trying to fix it. He’s stepping up to the plate. And the Republican legislature is stepping up to the plate to actually fix the problem, making the hard choices…Let’s face it, in terms of electoral politics, the largest interest group was public sector labor unions.
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Wisconsin’s Republican officials are using the legitimate economic anxiety being felt across the country to push for changes that wouldn’t improve Wisconsin’s budget situation one iota. As Tim Fernholz wrote in the National Journal:
The state’s entire budget shortfall for this year — the reason that Walker has said he must push through immediate cuts — would be covered by the governor’s relatively uncontroversial proposal to restructure the state’s debt. By contrast, the proposals that have kicked up a firestorm, especially his call to curtail the collective-bargaining rights of the state’s public-employees, wouldn’t save any money this year.
Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) — who successfully stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights in 2005 — was asked yesterday how such a move helps a state with its budget and had no answer at all. Wisconsin officials have informed Walker that his bill would actually result in the state losing $46 million in federal funds that are contingent on workers having collective bargaining rights.
As Adam Serwer wrote at The Plum Line, “this is no longer about ‘fiscal responsibility.’ It’s about whether or not public workers have a right to organize in their own interests — a right a majority of Americans support.” And it’s worth remembering that Walker has implemented a series of tax cuts that make the state’s long-term budget picture substantially worse.