Where is the Budget Crisis?
Brendan Fischer via PR Watch writes on the budget process in Wisconsin, with links here: Where is the Budget Crisis?.
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 …
I am not sure what that is supposed to mean. Agencies play only a small role in Wisconsin’s budget. The largest single item is aid to local governments which are designed to keep down property taxes and somewhat equalize the richer and poorer parts of the state. While Walker has not formally released his budget for the next two year period–the whole controversy now is “fixing” the budget for the next 6 months which arguably would not have needed “fixing” if not for Walker’s breaking it to give tax cuts to the rich and businesses under the guise of stimulus–the structural deficit in the next budget is real and the word is that local governments will take a huge hit as will aid to the states post high school educational institutions. To the extent he can pare down the budgets of agencies he does not like–the DNR comes to mind-so much the better, but that is not going to fill the budget hole anymore than taking rights away from public employees will do so.
As a finance committee member for a small town, I can sympathize with the idea that unions have to give some leeway for states to deal with budget crises – both the current one, and the long term problem of pensions and health care costs.
This, though, as an old school progressive , seems to provide an opportunity for the national Democratic party to get back the ‘I’m mad as heck and I’m not going to take it any more’ mantle. I’m glad to see schools closed and Democratic senators unwilling to return until the nutcase in charge in Wisconson agrees to negotiate over the budget rather than seeking to overturn 100 years of history.
Are the public employees in Wisconsin carrying out unnecessary tasks? Are they too numerous for the amount of work needed to be performed? Are Wisconsin’s children being better educated than all other school systems in the country? If so, who in Wisconsin wants to implement a Louisianna style of public education? Are the public roads too well maintained? Is snow control and removal beiing done too promptly? Are the bridges being too well maintained? How is it that any state’s administration and legislature determines what it can afford to do for its people?
If public employees are carrying out necessary and wanted services for the public that they serve why is the focus on the cost side of the equation? If a service is unnecessary than why has it been provided in the first place? Have previous administrations been remiss in the determination of appropriate and necessary services to the people they serve? Have you ever heard of, or do you know of, a government that does too much for its people? Is the garbage picked up too often? Is there too much police presence in commercial areas during day light hours and in residential neighborhiids during the night? Are their schools class size below 25 students? Do the schools even provide education inn the arts and physical education? What is it that governments in the US are doing that is too generous for the people they serve?
There are two sides to the budget deficit issue. One has to do with costs and that’s the side we keep harping on. We want public employees to work for less so that we can keep more of what we earn. Your taxes are too high and the answer is to reduce the income of public employees? That’s a rather selfish perspective on the issue. We want better government services, especially in the areas of education, the maintenance of infrastructure, police and fire protection and clean streets. How do we expect to pay less for what we wnat more of? Isn’t that a contradiction. You want to reduce taxes and you want to improve government services all at the same time? How can that be done? A decrease in revenue is the result of a decrease in your taxes which results in a demand for a decrease in the compensation of public employees. Why should public employees bear the brunt of everyone else’s financial needs? How does that support the concept of sharing the pain, if there need be pain to share?
Jack, The game being played by the GOP in Wisconsin is akin to the national game. First, the GOP says the reason that the economy is down is because the taxes on businesses and rich are too high. Wisconsin is a high tax state with more taxes on income than most of its neighbors. The trade off is that we tend to have lower sales taxes, a bit lower property taxes and a whole lot lower user fees. Anyway, the state has taken a hit from the Great Recession and business has attacked labor hammer and tongs as a result. At least two unions have agreed to concessions management demanded on threat of leaving the state. In boom times the unions might have said “Do not let the door hit you on the way out”, but not now. Those UNION employees have some natural jealousy toward the public employees who to this point have not made a whole lot of concessions. It is a game that can only pay off for the GOP–pit labor against labor. The sad fact is that the Great Recession has been absolutely great for capital and capital is doing everything it can to make sure labor stays in its place–one notch above serfdom. One thing is for sure–business has absolutely no desire to see the unemployment rate come down. It would lose much more in leverage over labor than it could ever hope to gain in demand.
Madison WI Capitol Times article – http://host.madison.com/ct/news/opinion/editorial/article_61064e9a-27b0-5f28-b6d1-a57c8b2aaaf6.html