April 14, 2011- On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Darrell Issa (R-California), held a hearing on state and municipal debt where the key question was State Budget Cuts: Choice or Necessity?
Chairman Issa started off by framing the issue in a manner that was thrilling to Wall Street barons and corporate big wigs. He said that states will face a shortfall of $112 billion in 2012 and the reasons for this were “obvious.” The primary reasons, according to Issa, are reckless spending and unfunded or underfunded pension funds. The 2008 Wall Street financial crisis and the staggering job loss, which caused state and federal tax revenues to tank, were not mentioned.
And so it went. Flying in the face of fact and reason, Republicans insisted that states spend too much and that the best way to attack the state deficit problem is on the back of unionized workers, their only organized opposition in the electoral arena.
Vinegar or Koch? The Wisconsin Way
The man featured to carry this script forward? Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has stirred a revolt in his state by attempting to balance the budget with steep cuts to education and healthcare and by busting unions.
Walker stuck to the script, arguing in his testimony that to avoid massive layoffs and massive property tax increases, he was forced to go after collective bargaining rights: “In Wisconsin, we are going to pursue a truly progressive option. We are going to give local governments the ‘tools’ they need to balance their budgets for many years to come." Among the tools are new requirements for the annual certification of union contracts and provisions that make it harder for unions to collect union dues.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) asked Walker the key question: What do the union-busting provisions have to do with balancing the budget? “Annual votes so unions can continue representing their own members. How much money does this save your state budget?”, Kucinich demanded. “It doesn’t save any,” admitted Walker.
In fact, it is likely to cost the state agency charged with overseeing the elections a pretty penny. Kucinich entered into the record a Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo noting that the items were not fiscal.
Rep. Quigley (D-Illinois) said that many governors “are taking advantage of an economic downturn to achieve long-standing ideological goals.” Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-Connecticut) pointed to the obvious political agenda behind the bill, quoting comments made by Wisconsin State Senator Scott Fitzgerald to Fox News: “If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”
The situation was summed up best by Mahlon Michaels, a Wisconsin firefighter who attended the hearing. "The governor was asked a number of times about what restricting the rights of workers had to do with the deficit, and it is clear that this is not about that. This is about Governor Walker going after the rights of employees. Even though the firefighters are exempt from his provisions, we are here to stand with the workers of Wisconsin."