The struggle between the union and the state of Wisconsin appears to be sudden, like a flash flood, but of course it wasn’t. The state’s government has been overspending for years (a trait it shares with the other 49 states). The conventional wisdom for dealing with the shortage of funds has been to shuffle money around, trim a little here and there, and delay as much as possible. Things may go on this way indefinitely for many states, but Wisconsin’s fortunes changed (for better or worse) during the recent mid-term elections. The state elected a new governor, Scott Walker, who inherited the colossal budget mess. (No one agrees on exactly how big the mess is, by the way. The statistic that keeps getting floated is that by the end of next year, they’ll be $3.6 billion in the hole.)
For reasons best known to himself, Governor Walker opted to tackle the budgetary crisis head-on. It must have been the consensus in Wisconsin that it was finally time to deal with the problem, but Walker’s ferocious approach startled his constituents. He proposed a number of aggressive strategies and emergency cost-cutting measures to address the state’s debt. Among his proposals is one that strips the state’s employees of the right to collective bargaining. Basically, if this proposal is voted into law,
Wisconsin public employees:
- Would continue to be able to negotiate wages to a point
- Would be able to opt out of paying union dues
- Would NOT be able to negotiate benefits or working conditions
Wisconsin Senate Republicans have lined up behind the Governor and his unpopular decision, saying they aren’t willing to pass the buck any further. Wisconsin is deeply in debt and it’s not going to go away. Time to face it.
State Democrats, on the other hand, want alternatives. They’ve offered compromises, such as paying about 8% more for health and retirement benefits, but they’re unwilling to give up collective bargaining rights. Whether the public employees would be open to this or any other compromise is seemingly irrelevant, because the Governor has signaled his determination to pass the bill as-is.
The bill would likely pass if it were voted on, and the Governor warns that if it is not, what follows will make his current plan (which includes $1 billion in cuts) look like Candy Land. So, in an effort to stall the process, fourteen state senators (all Democrats) fled the Capitol, indicating they would stay away until the Governor agreed to compromise. At least one of these representatives has to come back for the bill to get an up or down vote.
Where does that leave us? The Wisconsin school system, along with the state government, is essentially shut down as the people battle it out in the freezing cold streets of Madison. Thousands of teachers called in sick on Friday and Monday to join the other protesters at the Capitol. On Saturday, roughly 70,000 citizens marched in the freezing cold all day, and spent the night in the rotunda. Tonight the situation is at an impasse.
No matter who wins this battle – the state or the union – all it means for most of those involved is that there’s a little less money to go around… and frequently there wasn’t much in the first place. It’s nauseating to see politicians and media and the usual parasites swarming in from all sides, eager to exploit the situation for a headline or TV ratings. You know the whole situation is about to be trivialized when Sarah Palin and Jesse Jackson rush into the fray. I’m not a fan of President Obama, but it was appropriate for him to comment on the situation, and he should be able to give his opinion on any issue he wants. Whether he stepped over the line into antagonizing the protesters is a matter of opinion.
Whatever motives people have, they should be held accountable for them, especially if they actually provoke something tragic into being. Last month, a Congresswoman was shot in the head at a small gathering of citizens at a grocery store. This month, the newly-elected governor of Wisconsin is receiving death threats.
I wish that instead of lecturing and instigating the people involved, the media, politicians, and D-list celebrities would note that everyone involved ultimately has the same goal: to get the state out of its monetary crisis and return to prosperity. If you want to be of assistance, perhaps you could donate some of your millions from SarahPAC or the Rainbow Coalition to end the crisis instead of exploiting it.