Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dairy State Distress: Part 2 (updated)

Evidence emerges every day of the deep irresponsibility embedded in Gov. Walker's power grab.

The latest is found in this story from the Wisconsin State Journal: Deadline looms for debt restructuring plan.

Walker's "budget repair bill" and its provision to strip public employees of all but the most meaningless of collective bargaining rights included a deadline-sensitive element to restructure $165 million in debt.

As reporter Dee Hall explains in the above-linked story, debt restructuring is something that has been done before, and could have been done as a stand-alone measure without controversy. Walker, however, insisted on an all-or-nothing bill that included his collective-bargaining-rights takeaway and has since refused to compromise.

The debt-restructuring deadline is real.

As everyone now knows, Wisconsin Senate Democrats absented themselves in order to deny a quorum and block the bill. That also had the effect of blocking the debt-restructuring, which seems likely to lead to the following scenario Hall describes:

Now it's unclear when or if the state will be able to sell bonds or notes in time to avoid a looming March 16 deadline to deposit $165 million into the state's bond security and redemption fund. The money from the fund is used to make the May 1 debt payment, which this year is $165 million.

So let's make this clear: Gov. Walker, in order to get his radical change in collective bargaining, is willing to hold the state's fiscal affairs hostage. In short, he's committed political blackmail.

I can anticipate a counter-argument that it's the Senate Dems who are the hostage-takers or blackmailers, in the name of preserving the collective bargaining rights of public employees. The problem here is that the burden of proof is on Walker, on two counts: 1) The radical nature of the change he is trying to make in what has been a settled and legal practice in this state for 50 years, and 2) the nature of that change to fundamentally destroy the human rights of a group of people.

For further evidence of our governor's fecklessness, read this, from Wisconsin blogger Jay Bullock.


I want to briefly address the question about Gov. Walker's motives.
Plenty of people argue, and I will assert, persuasively, that this bill is part of a much larger trend and strategy to eliminate unions and arrogate more power to capital. But I will put that aside for a moment.

There is a long-running structural deficit in Wisconsin's budget that does need to be solved. There are long-running concerns about benefit costs, particularly pension costs, for public employees. No one denies the need to deal with those.

But the real reach of the collective-bargaining-stripping position is to the rights of local public employees (rights that local officials have said they are not asking to be taken away). What that is about is that Walker's next budget will reportedly cut close to $1 billion in aid to local governments and school districts. By unilaterally stripping those bargaining rights, Walker is arguably buying his way out of accountability for the potential costs of that budget: telling taxpayers and municipal leaders they can effectively dump all of the cost of those lost revenues on workers.

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