Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ezra Klein: Gov. Walker Created Deficit, Uses It To Bust Unions

Ezra Klein (left) explains that Gov. Scott Walker created the very deficit that he now wants public employees to pay for. More importantly, Walker is using it for a longtime Republican ideological end: to destroy public-employee unions. Doing so removes an entity that funds Democratic campaigns. From "Unions Aren't To Blame For Wisconsin's Budget":

The governor called a special session of the legislature and signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things). The new legislation was not offset, and it helped turn a surplus into a deficit... As Brian Beutler writes, "public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda."

But even that's not the full story here. Public employees aren't being asked to make a one-time payment into the state's coffers. Rather, Walker is proposing to sharply curtail their right to bargain collectively. A cyclical downturn that isn't their fault, plus an unexpected reversal in Wisconsin's budget picture that wasn't their doing, is being used to permanently end their ability to sit across the table from their employer and negotiate what their health insurance should look like.

That's how you keep a crisis from going to waste: You take a complicated problem that requires the apparent need for bold action and use it to achieve a longtime ideological objective. In this case, permanently weakening public-employee unions, a group much-loathed by Republicans in general and by the Republican legislators who have to battle them in elections in particular. And note that not all public-employee unions are covered by Walker's proposal: the more conservative public-safety unions -- notably police and firefighters, many of whom endorsed Walker -- are exempt.

If you read Walker's State of the State address, you can watch him hide the ball on what he's doing. "Our upcoming budget is built on the premise that we must right size our government," he said. "That means reforming public employee benefits -- as well as reforming entitlement programs and reforming the state’s relationship with local governments." Not a word on his actual proposal, which is to end collective bargaining for benefits.

No comments: