Four things people mostly aren’t saying about the Wisconsin collective bargaining protests

I try to keep politics out of the blog, mostly.  But the current protests are occupying a big share of our attention here, and  it would be weird to let it pass without comment.  A huge amount has already been written — my own political stance carries no special weight and has in any case been ably explained by others who share it.  So for the blog I’ll try to say a few things that I think are right, but which haven’t been tweeted and multiply retweeted.

  • Lots of people are asking “Why did the protests happen and why was everyone so taken by surprise?”  It’s not clear to me a better answer than “It’s not usually 50 degrees in February in Wisconsin” is needed.
  • Where is Tommy Thompson?  He is still, I think, the most popular Republican in the state.  As governor, he negotiated with state unions, and he’s generally thought of as a moderate; on the other hand, he was the keynote speaker at a Tea Party rally last spring.  If he supports the removal of collective bargaining for state employees, why isn’t he coming out and saying it?  Why hasn’t anyone asked him?
  • Underreported part of the story:  the right to collective bargaining is guaranteed, by federal law, to every non-governmental employee in the state.  The public employees are asking to play by the same rules as private employees, not special ones.
  • Underreported part of the story 2:  let’s suppose the Senate reaches a compromise:  taxpayers in the public employ get a bigger chunk of the paycheck taken by the state, to offset their pension and healthcare costs, but they retain the same collective bargaining rights that private employees have.  Unions claim victory for keeping bargaining, Senate R’s claim victory for trimming the budget.  The D’s return from Rockford, the Senate passes a bill.  But what about the Frankenveto?  Let me emphasize for those not from Wisconsin that what I’m about to say is actually true:  the Governor has the power to veto individual sentences and even words out of bills, thus enacting into law assertions entirely of the executive’s creation.  (Until 1990, the Governor could veto individual letters and digits!)   Scott Walker won’t hesitate to slice and dice what the legislature sends him until it says what he wants it to say — and it’s hard to imagine him paying much of a political price.  Crazy as this is, it’s a Wisconsin tradition.

Do I have any idea what the result of this fracas will be, for workers in Wisconsin or for Scott Walker’s political future?  I do not.

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6 thoughts on “Four things people mostly aren’t saying about the Wisconsin collective bargaining protests

  1. Richard Séguin says:

    It is late in the evening now, and I’ll have more to say later, but I thought I should just mention at least one thing that occurred to me today. Despite the fact that Walker will still give his budget address on Tuesday, he has now postponed releasing specific details of his budget until March 1. Why?

    You could speculate that he is doing this because the details may have to be adjusted somewhat based on the success or lack of success of the “budget repair bill.” Yet, he seems totally confident that budget repair bill will eventually pass, and indeed, he undoubtedly has enough support for it in the now Republican dominated assembly and senate. And there really is no reason why his budget could not be tweaked before passage in order to accomodate the outcome of the budget repair bill.

    We already know that there is going to be bad news in his budget proposal, including cuts to Medicaid, revenue sharing with local governments, education, etc., that will undoubtedly drive property taxes on my modest house in Madison to ridiculous heights*. I’m suspicious that he needs the “repair bill” voted on before telling anyone what’s in the budget bill because there’s something in the budget bill that we don’t know about yet which, when combined with what’s in the repair bill, is going to be synergistically inflammatory. Union destruction seems to be of paramount importance to Walker, and I think he wants that under his belt before anything else can derail that goal.

    *One reason property taxes are so high in Madison is the the large amount of tax exempt land totaling over 1/3 of the land area. Madison still must provide services to that tax exempt land. State owned property within the city boundary is a large part of the tax exempt land.

  2. Richard Séguin says:

    Tommy Thompson once attempted to raid the pension fund for public employees. I quote from

    “The Wisconsin pension fund is also not a pot of gold that politicians can dip into when the spirit moves them. That decision came from the state Supreme Court in 1997, a full 10 years after the infamous ‘pension raid’ by Thompson when he was governor.

    Thompson and the Democratic Legislature had tapped pension funds to replace a general fund supplement for older retirees, thus freeing up $98 million to spend on keeping Chrysler Corp. plants in Wisconsin.

    Pension groups filed suit against Thompson, with Justice Ann Walsh Bradley eventually saying the action represented a ‘taking of the plaintiffs’ property without just compensation.’ She also rejected the Thompson administration argument the state could unilaterally change the terms of the Wisconsin Retirement System contract. The state eventually had to return $216 million to the pension fund.”

    Could Walker attempt something similar to pay for more tax breaks for corporations? We now have a much different state supreme court, partly paid for by corporate money.

    The unions have now offered to accept the financial terms of the repair bill as long as they retain bargaining rights. It was proposed by the Wisconsin State Journal this morning that the bargaining provisions could have a two year sunset clause. Walker has not responded to any of this, and I doubt that he will. And, as you pointed out, even if the republican representatives adopted this idea, it could be vetoed by the governor as he signs the bill, and I’m sure that he would do that.

    Another likely budget victim is Wisconsin Public Radio. Turning the lights out on public radio has been a wet dream for Republicans as long as I can remember.

    One thing that really scares people about Walker is that he does not seem to listen to or understand other’s viewpoints, and shows no empathy whatsoever.

    Disclaimer: I’m a retired public employee who has always worked in non-represented positions except when I was a TA a long time ago and belonged to the TAA.

  3. Jonathan TE says:

    Tommy Thompson was a guest this morning on the NPR radio show On Point (Monday 2/22). I didn’t hear every word, but he pretty consistently dodged the issue in a way that tilted toward supporting Gov. Walker. Several times he said things along the lines of “this isn’t union busting” and so forth that came across as implying (to me, at least) that he might not have wanted to do such a thing himself, but he sure as heck isn’t going to step on Walker’s toes and say anything negative about the idea. I’m not sure if that qualifies as cowardice or convenience or just regular being a human being or what.

  4. Richard Séguin says:

    This is veering off course here, but I can’t help relating the story that I just recalled about my one and only and rather odd personal encounter with Tommy Thompson. One day I was standing outside of the City-County Building when a dumpy looking state car pulled up to the curb, and out popped a somewhat disheveled looking Thompson and several slightly seedy looking characters who appeared to be aides or bodyguards. They headed quickly to the entrance. I followed them in and caught the elevator just as they did. When we all got into the elevator, Thompson suddenly turned to me, put his hand out to shake, and said “Hi, I’m Tommy Thompson!” Not being a fan, I washed my hands after I got off the elevator. I finally recalled reading in the paper that he was to appear there in court for something that day. About an hour or two later, I was once again outside at the same entrance, and out the door charged Thompson with his encourage. Having spotted me out of the corner of his eye, he suddenly veered off course heading directly at me. I cringed. He extended his hand to shake, and said “Hi, I’m Tommy Thompson!” As they scrambled into their car and took off, I wondered to myself if he even realized that he had just introduced himself to the same person twice. After all, I am not undistinguished looking. Since then I’ve always thought of Thompson as the Fisher-Price wind-up robot politician.

  5. Richard Séguin says:

    “Walker Eyes Raid on Employee Insurance Fund”:

    I’m sure there’s more to come in the main budget bill next week.

  6. Richard Séguin says:

    Also, an excellent editorial by Paul Krugman in the NYT today tying what’s going on in Wisconsin to Iraq:

    “Shock Doctrine, USA”

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