UPDATE: This has passed thorough the committee. It will now go to both houses.
DISCLAIMER: I use to live in Wisconsin. I have family there. I’d love to go back there one day to live. My husband is not union though many of my inlaws are. And I want to warn you this will be long. I’d also like to thank Trista Serrano who is the secretary of her local AFSCME local 3777 for the pictures she’s letting me use from the rallies. These are from Madison, Wisconsin.
I know I’ve said I don’t do politics on this blog. However, this is too important. What is happening in Wisconsin can happen in your state. If you haven’t heard, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin budget repair proposal would effectively end collective bargaining for most of the approximately 175,000 public workers in Wisconsin. Yes, you heard this right — he is trying to bust the union. Walker’s plan would make workers pay half the costs of their pensions, at least 12.6 percent of their health care premiums, and state employees’ costs would go up by an average of 8 percent. The changes would save the state $30 million by June 30 and $300 million over the next two years. Unions could still represent workers, but could not seek pay increases above the Consumer Price Index unless approved by a public referendum. (Think of how many on your local school referendums have passed. None lately? Guess how this would work!) Unions also could not force employees to pay dues and would have to hold annual votes to stay organized. Local police, firefighters and state troopers would retain their collective bargaining rights. He will NOT even talk to the unions. He said it’s his way or he’ll call in the National Guard. (As a mom, I consider that quite the threat. It’s like me telling the kids wait till your father gets home.) He is pushing this through as fast as possible. Since both houses in Wisconsin are controlled by Republicans and Scott Walker is a Republican, this is going to go through. Be afraid. Be very afraid. This could be your backyard.
I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they don’t care for unions. They forget that the private sectors pays what it does and you have the benefits that you do due to what unions have fought for for years for their members. If public sector pay falls, so will yours. This effects the university system, nurses, teachers, state employees. This effects your neighbors, your friends, your family. This isn’t us and against them. This is what doing what is right versus doing what is wrong. We are talking about Ashwaubenon (it’s what you would all call a suburb of Green Bay) losing about $1 million in spending from this. There are about 18,000 people who live there. I don’t have population stats for Green Bay, but I’ve heard that $7 million of spending gone from there. As my friend Elissa asked me:
If the middle class loses discretionary income, how many new Fords are they going to be buying? How many coffees from the local coffee shop? What about jewelry from the mom & pop jewelry store downtown? Early estimates are that at least 10,000 private sector jobs will be lost…
I wanted to put this in perspective for you all. What this will do to real people. My first story is from Elizabeth:
My family is in a tailspin regarding this budget “fix”. I am a stay at home mom of three. My husband is a public school choir and theater teacher in a rural district in WI. He has two bachelor degrees and a Masters degree. He gets paid less than $50,000/year and that includes being the Variety Show and Musical Director (all extra curricular activities that result in the equivalent of a second job for a few months a year.) He works in a very supportive district but even his district has had to go through layoffs.
I believe the $400/month decrease will cause us tremendous pain. I am a small business owner in that I teach piano lessons out of my home. If we lose this money I would need to take on more students and possibly lower my rates (which have remained the same for the last 10 years.) Who is going to afford piano lessons if they can’t pay their bills? How are we going to pay our bills with a $400/month paycut with no notice?
I guess my kids won’t be in dance or karate. I guess we will forgo basic cable. We already have no gym membership, no phone land line and we already shop generic and coupons at the grocery store to make ends meet. We drive 2 cars – a ’97 and a ’99 – both with over 135,000 miles. We own those outright and already had the plan to drive them into the ground. We will not spend money in the community – no dinners out – no movies – no Target runs. That is for sure. All of this STILL will not make up the difference. Oh – did I mention we are still paying off student loans for said education?
I was going to go back to school to be a nurse when my youngest goes to school. I guess that will go to the back burner again. You see we were already making sacrifices to live on public sector salary. I simply don’t understand how doing any more is going to help.
Now let’s talk about destroying the unions. Who will protect my husband from being fired for having too much education? Who will speak for the teacher’s best interests? Teachers unions have already agreed to lower salaries to maintain their benefits. Now Gov. Walker wants to lower salaries even more by taking away those benefits? Who does Walker think he is that he can just come in and bully us into taking away our rights? He uses scare tactics and rhetoric to get other Republicans on his side. It is the union issue that has me the most worried. Unions set a standard for the rest of the working class. It is taking power away from workers. It is saying that their voice isn’t as important as lawmakers voices.
I agree that we have to spend within our means as a state. We need to balance the budget. This looks like a poorly veiled effort to destroy collective bargaining in the name of budget cuts. Apples and oranges. Let’s look at the whole picture and give the Wisconsin middle class the right to be heard. I am sure we can come up with a more productive solution than this. And I am sure we don’t have to pit middle class public sector against middle class private sector to get it done.
My second story is from Val:
Wisconsin has been significantly effected by Scott Walker’s proposed bill to have state union employees pay in to their pensions and health insurance, but the biggest blow has been the reduction of union member rights to collective bargaining.
I am not currently a union member, but I am a special education coordinator in a school district and I have spent a lot of time talking about this with staff. Most teachers understand a small increase in what they pay in to pension and/or retirement. However, many of them have been planning for their financial futures for many years. This amount-which is reported to be about $5000 per year per teacher, can make the job of teaching go from reasonable job to support our family, to a job that can not support a family.
The financial issue would cause chaos, but the addition of the decrease in worker’s rights is unbelievable. Why does governor Walker care if we bargain about the length of the school day, or number of in-service days. Those will not effect the budget deficit. However, it will take away the basic human right to have a say in your working conditions.
As a tax payer, former union member, and education advocate I am appalled at the behavior of this elected official. I am unable to attend the huge peaceful protests in Madison, but I will be praying that Mr. Walker hears the people of the state and gives this bill ample time for discussion and open dialog. Without that, we are losing our democratic right to a representative government. Gov. Walker is obviously not representing the wishes of his constituants
And lastly I have Anne:
I think that WI should increase its sales tax to 6% statewide to pay the deficit and that collective bargaining rights shouldn’t be touched. Our teachers are already underpaid and overworked and I’m worried that when this thing is all said and done our teachers will be on strike and my children will be forced to either be taught by an unqualified substitute teacher or I will have to home-school them. I am seriously scared to see what the outcome of this whole fiasco will be.
These are just a few of the stories I’ve heard. I’m sure I”ll have more to post in the coming days. However, I don’t have time to wait. Gov. Walker tried to push this through for a vote already. Yes, he introduced this bill this last Friday and wanted a vote. I’ve seen letters from State Representatives trying to slow this down yet the Republicans are dead set on getting this through.
But Lisa, what about their deficit? Well, that’s where things get interesting. Wisconsin has been managed well enough that the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently released a memo detailing how the state will end the 2009-2011 budget biennium with a budget surplus of $121.4 million (dated Jan. 31). WAIT??!!!?? Isn’t Scott Walker telling people that they are $137 million in debt? One Wisconsin Now, the progressive watchdog group, explains:
“Since his inauguration in early January, Walker has approved $140 million in new special-interest spending that includes:
• $25 million for an economic development fund for job creation that still has $73 million due to a lack of job creation. Walker is creating a $25 million hole which will not create or retain jobs.
• $48 million for private health savings accounts, which primarily benefit the wealthy. A study from the federal Governmental Accountability Office showed the average adjusted gross income of HSA participants was $139,000 and nearly half of HSA participants reported withdrawing nothing from their HSA, evidence that it is serving as a tax shelter for wealthy participants.
• $67 million for a tax shift plan, so ill-conceived that at best the benefit provided to ‘job creators’ would be less than a dollar a day per new job, and may be as little as 30 cents a day.”
State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison: “In one fell swoop, Gov. Walker is trying to institute a sweeping radical and dangerous notion that will return Wisconsin to the days when land barons and railroad tycoons controlled the political elites in Madison.”
So what’s his end game? Get rid of the unions. The unions back Democratic candidates. Get rid of the unions, get rid of your competition. The kicker is that if Wisconsin raised their sales tax (and I don’t want to hear any bitching on that one since I pay 10% sales tax and my income taxes just went up 67%) 1% that they’d have that paid off in 4 years.
I’d love to know your thoughts. Even if you don’t agree with me. (And if you live in WI, please contact your state representative.)
AND a side note: This is the same governor who turned down a high speed rail grant and a broadband grant from the federal government that would have brought millions upon millions of dollars into the state and jobs too.
AND another thought: Why isn’t the legislature giving up any of their benefits? What is Gov. Walker giving up?