MILWAUKEE - While frightened citizens contemplate the 1,345-page two-year budget bill (no wonder it's still not fully analyzed), they should stop and ask:
Why is Gov. Scott Walker so desperate to get back the minority Democrats of the Senate? It's certainly not to vote with him. It's actually not to vote at all.
But wait, wasn't the begging of senate Dems all about his first so-called budget repair bill, the one disemboweling bargaining rights? Why would their absence also impede this $1.7 billion tank that will crush education and public safety? (See related story.)
Welcome to the case of which came first, the chicken or the egg, or in this case the victim or the entrails. Walker can't have all of one bill without the other. His poor big tank didn't have much of a motor to begin with and now has shed half of its treads.
Remember all those "tools" Walker keeps talking about that he will give local governments to fight against the damage his own budget will do? The tools none of them asked for and few of them want? Let's look inside that toolbox:
It's puny and flabby at best, and flat empty of reality. In fact, the only real tool was in that first bill, and it was a club to beat down public employees by eliminating their rights. Most local officials would rather talk than club, particularly since this club swings both ways. The smart ones know the whole concept smells of a political grandstand to break union political power.
But what Walker didn't expect, the delay caused by the absence of 14 senators, has now given time to expose the game. The flight of the 14 denied him the quorum to pass any financial bills. It gave people who don't pay much attention to details in a bill a chance to catch on. Even much of the media that didn't understand started looking, especially after public outrage clued them in. Now they're only starting to examine that second bill.
The state AFL-CIO certainly has skin in this game and rightly hates the repair bill. But it is also good at straight analysis and hard facts in its detailed account of the Walker proposal on bargaining rights. Turns out many even in unions did not realize how sweeping and clearly beyond "budget repair" was Walker's attack. It can be downloaded from the Take Action menu at milwakeelabor.org.
That attack is the heart of the bill, but hardly all of the bill. It may have been bargaining rights that made the 14 flee, but a lot more is keeping them in Illinois. The other extraneous items range from the seemingly petty (converting 37 state employees from civil servants with controlled pay to political appointees with largesse by whim) to the ferocious gouges on revenue income, public security, social justice and general health. Some trigger what Walker wants in his budget bill, as does the attack on public sector unions.
Power grab to cut Medicaid. One little-known provision in the budget repair bill would put complete control of the state's Medicaid program, known as BadgerCare, in the hands of the ultra-conservative Health/Human Services Secretary Dennis Smith, who is on record as opposing the concept of Medicaid itself. The bill would give him the authority to override state Medicaid laws and institute such sweeping changes as reducing benefits and limiting who is eligible. Walker doesn't have to detail loss of eligibility in his budget bill because he put the mechanism in this one. Read between the lines and that's also power to let contracts to companies of your administration's choice.
Privatizing aging power plants for bidders of Walker's choosing. The bill allows a rapid no-bid "fire sale" of all state-owned power plants, many aging and needing massive work to meet environmental standards. The no-bid clause, with a rubber-stamp GOP committee, opens the state wide to bad deals, naked cronyism and backroom gimmicks without pubic oversight or veto. The odor is already evident in the claims that the plants aren't worth much anyway so getting anything is good as Walker dumps old power plants into the private sector. The likelihood that this is aimed at the Koch brothers is exaggerated but it sure is an invitation to environmental disaster as well as to fleecing of the taxpayers - by someone.
Borrowing money to keep the government going. That's why Walker keeps harping on the need to move the repair bill, his idea of refinancing existing loans. That's the definition of kicking the can down the road, but it's the inability to complete such deals that seems the main reason Walker wants the senators back.
In other bills, Walker would:
Worsen drinking water. Republicans have introduced Assembly-Senate bills to repeal a rule requiring municipal governments to disinfect their water. Such basic and rather cheap protection that affects 12% of municipalities is deemed too expensive. (Has the GOP been drinking something other than water?)
Goodby wetlands. Walker's regulatory bill exempted a parcel of wetland owned by a Republican donor from water quality standards. But the exemption proved an embarrassing giveaway to a GOP ally, particularly when the target company declined to build. The bill was passed anyway.
Hello, Fiscal Nightmare. That's the "source of misery bill" requiring a two-thirds supermajority in the legislature to pass any tax increase. Economists focused on flexibility call the concept a fiscal straitjacket.
Smile for the Polling Place! No death panels for grandma, just make it nearly impossible for her to vote. Republican lawmakers moved forward on a bill that would require voters to present a photo ID from the DMV at the polls, making it significantly difficult for the elderly, the disabled, college students, and rural residents to participate in elections. Big surprise, many of these folks vote Democratic. While there have been almost no documented cases of fraudulent voting in the state, as the Wisconsin State Journal writes, the GOP is going "overboard in limiting ballot access in a state proud of its long history of high participation in elections."
Cutting jobs, stifling innovation. Public outcry stopped a bill Walker introduced in late January that would have eliminated an estimated $1.8 billion in new wind power investments and jeopardized 11 eleven proposed projects. But even before he was governor he maneuvered to kill a $810 billion federally funded high-speed rail project, immediately eliminating nearly 5,000 construction jobs and forcing the Spanish company Talgo to severely curtail its hiring plans and longevity in Milwaukee (it's moving much of its work to Illinois). The federal government has now given that rail money to such eager states as California, where a newspaper ran the headline, "Thanks a billion, cheeseheads!"
Not enough? Under the pretense of fiscal authority, in a party-line vote, the legislature ceded "extraordinary control" to the governor to draft agency rules even for the state's ethics watchdog, the Government Accountability Board.
Certainly the main thrust of the first bill was eviscerating bargaining rights for public workers (and attacking union dues, a portion of which can back political candidates Walker has good reason not to like).
Still, give the governor some credit. For a while he deflected attention from the real contents of his 144-page repair bill and other legislation rushed through under the guise of a jobs creation emergency - without creating one single job.
Only now is the public realizing how his fury to pass the first bill was really an effort to pass the second. The political shell game is to do harm to some in order to do harm to all. Except your biggest donors and most blinded followers, of course.
Dominique Paul Noth is editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press. This article originally appeared at milwaukeelabor.org and is reposted with the author/editor's permission.
Photo: Madison, Wis., Feb. 19. PW/Larry Ellis