February 28, 2011
By Ruth Conniff, The Progressive
Facts Overshadowed in Debate Over Union Bill
Facts overshadowed by rhetoric as debate over union rights bill in Wisconsin forges ahead
By PATRICK CONDON and SCOTT BAUER Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. February 26, 2011
been overshadowed by rhetoric at the Wisconsin Capitol, where protesters and politicians have been engaged in a tense standoff over the governor’s proposal to strip most public employees of their collective-bargaining rights.
Gov. Scott Walker insists the state is broke and must make drastic spending cuts. Unions believe Republican leaders are trying to wipe them out. Two weeks into the debate, The Associated Press assessed the claims in an effort to shed light on what’s at stake.
Walker says his plan is needed to ease a deficit that is projected to hit $137 million by July and $3.6 billion by mid-2013.
The budget as it stands now is balanced, and Walker is under no legal obligation to make changes. But by mid-summer, the state could come up short on cash to pay its bills, largely because of a projected $169 million shortfall in its Medicaid program.
February 27, 2011
Infographic: Tax Breaks vs. Budget Cuts
By Donna Cooper | February 22, 2011
House leaders are unfortunately restricting their proposed budget cuts for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 to nonsecurity discretionary spending in an attempt to tame a $1.3 trillion deficit. This approach is especially shortsighted since the Federal Treasury loses twice as much revenue due to tax breaks than Congress appropriates on all nonsecurity discretionary spending.
The chart below compares the 10 safety-net programs slated for deep cuts with the cost of the tax breaks that should also be considered for reduction or elimination to bring the budget into balance. The column on the left is a list of safety-net programs that have already been targets of the House leadership’s budget ax. The column on the right is the cost to specified tax breaks (see bottom of page for sources).
Most Americans would be surprised to learn that tax breaks are not on the table during any budget negotiations. In fact, Congress has the Congressional Budget Office prepare an official spending estimate for the cost of all programs or their expansions. Meanwhile, Congress enacts and continues tax breaks without any requirement that the cost of tax breaks be calculated and shared with members before a vote.
That’s why, over the last 16 years, the cost to the Treasury of the mortgage interest tax deduction, for example, doubled from $48 billion in 1995 to nearly $100 billion this year and no one made a peep about getting control of this loss in revenue. The stunning growth in this tax break is unchecked and unquestioned.
This tax break is also increasingly benefiting individuals who don’t need any federal incentives to purchase a home. In 2011 the mortgage interest deduction will help families who purchase a vacation home avoid taxes to the tune of $800 million. Meanwhile, the House Budget Committee chairman’s 2011 budget bill included $730 million in cuts to housing programs for the elderly and disabled.
There are many other examples where the cost of tax breaks are skyrocketing and disproportionately benefiting companies and people who don’t need them (see chart above):
- Congress should rein in the $4.6 billion in tax breaks given to companies who move jobs offshore instead of making cuts to the $4 billion in job-training programs.
- Oil companies get more than $2 billion in tax write-offs for drilling expenses yet Congress is considering cutting the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the $2 billion federal program that helps poor families pay their winter heating bills.
- Large biofuels companies, such as Archer Daniels Midland, benefit from the ethanol tax break that now costs nearly $5 billion a year. And oil companies such as ExxonMobil benefit from more than $9 billion in tax breaks for oil exploration.
By Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel Feb. 27, 2011
Madison — The doors of the state Capitol may have been shut at 4 p.m. but the protests continued Sunday night as several hundred demonstrators remained on the first floor of the ornate rotunda and vowed to continue their vigil against Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill.
Police stood by and watched as demonstrators chanted and sang, with some protesters providing an impromptu drum concert.
Protesters have said they were willing to face what they termed “peaceful arrests” as they tried to maintain their place inside the building.
“We delivered a message to Governor Walker. We’ll continue to be here to kill this bill,” said Peter Rickman, 28, of Neenah, during a news conference.
“This feels like it’s about shutting down the people’s demonstration,” Rabbi Renee Bauer said in calling for demonstrations to continue.
The statehouse occupation began Feb. 15 when hundreds of people lined up to provide testimony to the Joint Finance Committee.
At around 3 a.m. on the Feb. 16, the committee stopped taking testimony but Democrats in the Legislature immediately started holding an informal listening session that went around the clock for days.
“No one had planned to stay here,” said Alex Hanna, 25, a UW-Madison student. “It emerged organically.”
Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said authorities were trying to work with labor leaders to get people out of the building.
“There is no plan to become confrontational,” he said. “We haven’t seen that in over 40 years.
Alex Hanna, 25, a member of the UW-Madison Teaching Assistants’ Association, called the closure of the building “politically motivated.”
“We’re going to be back in this building,” he said. “It’s the people’s house.”
The state’s Department of Administration had sought to bring a sense of business-as-usual to the Capitol by establishing regular hours. Officials said they were trying to clean the building after nearly two weeks of continuous protests.
There was an air of expectancy throughout the afternoon as demonstrators gathered inside the rotunda. Some came to snap photos of the numerous signs that hung on the walls of the building.
Among the signs: “Please remember this is a peaceful protest.”
“Using a recession created on Wall Street to try to bust unions on Main Street.”
“As Joan Rivers would say, ‘can we tawk?’ ” a reference to union demands that Walker negotiate with them.
At a few minutes past 4 p.m., an announcement came over the sound system: “The Capitol is now closed.”
Scores of demonstrators left the building, while a few hundred made their way to the first floor. They vowed to hold their ground inside the building that has emerged as the focal point of pro-labor demonstrations.
Dena Ohlinger, 22, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student, said for the last week, she had gone to classes and worked during the day and used a yoga mat and blanket while sleeping atop the cold marble floors of the Capitol at night.
“Everyone has been incredible here,” she said. “Regular social barriers have been broken down.”
Blanca Martin, 29, of Stevens Point, said the protests accomplished many things even as the budget-repair bill makes its way through the Legislature. Fourteen Democratic State Senators fled to Illinois to block final passage of the bill.
“We’ve had unity of purpose, unity of spirit,” said Martin. “Everyone who has been here has been transformed for life.”
During the protest, demonstrators organized cleanup details, set up a system of marshals, and brought in food.
“There has never been a cleaner group of protesters or a more public health conscious group of protesters,” said Matt Kearny, 28, a research assistant at UW-Madison.
On his left arm, Kearny had written numbers with a red marker.
“It’s the phone number of a defense attorney, in the event I’m taken into custody,” he said.
By Mark Naison from the History News Network at http://hnn.us/articles/136764.html
Mark Naison is a Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program. He is the author of three books and over 100 articles on African-American History, urban history, and the history of sports. His most recent book, White Boy: A Memoir, was published in the spring of 2002
With the state legislature in Wisconsin occupied and surrounded by thousands of state workers and their supporters, and with schools closed throughout the state because of teachers calling in sick, I cannot help but think of the greatest strike and building occupation in the history of the American labor movement—the Flint Sit-Down Strikes of 1936-37. Though the Wisconsin struggle is being led by government workers, and the Flint strikes involved workers involved in automobile production, both movements took place during the worst economic crisis of their era and were fighting for the same goal— collective bargaining rights for working people through a union of their own choosing—and were much more about dignity and respect than about income.
You heard it here first: Tax the rich and solve budget shortfall
By Marc V. Levine Feb. 26, 2011 MJS Op-Ed
One of the most pernicious myths surrounding the Wisconsin budget showdown is Gov. Scott Walker’s claim that the state is “broke,” there is nothing to negotiate and the only solution is to mandate massive reductions in public employee compensation and to abolish their collective bargaining rights.
This is nonsense. Wisconsin has not gone into the red because of excessively generous pay and benefits negotiated by unions for state and local employees. Our deficit has grown because the Great Recession blew a hole in the state budget, as it did in virtually every state in the country.
Nor are excessively generous compensation packages for state employees holding back the recovery: Careful studies by the Economic Policy Institute as well as University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee economists Keith Bender and John Heywood show clearly that public-sector employees are less well-compensated than comparably educated and experienced private-sector workers in Wisconsin.
Most assuredly, Wisconsin isn’t “bankrupt” because public-sector unions here have the right to collective bargaining. There are 13 states with no collective bargaining rights for public workers; eight of them have larger budget shortfalls than does Wisconsin. In Texas, for example, a non-collective bargaining state whose low-tax, “open for business” economic policies are vaunted by the right, the state’s deficit as a percentage of the total budget is over twice that of Wisconsin’s.
Clearly, Walker is using the relatively modest fiscal strain facing Wisconsin as a pretext to roll back basic worker rights and undermine public employee unions as a political force. Moreover, beyond this indefensible demonization of public employees as the primary cause of the state’s budgetary shortfall, Walker’s plan makes no macroeconomic sense.
As Wisconsin struggles to recover from the Great Recession, an economic downturn propelled by lack of consumer demand, Walker intends to significantly reduce the purchasing power of 300,000 middle-class consumers and taxpayers. The negative ripple effects of this austerity and shrinking consumer spending will cost Wisconsin thousands of private-sector jobs and stifle the state’s economic recovery.
The immediate crisis, according to Walker, is a $137 million shortfall in the current biennial budget. “We’re broke; we don’t have the money,” says the governor, and only slashing the compensation and bargaining rights of public employees can get us through the crisis. (Let’s ignore for the moment the inconvenient fact for Walker’s “we’re broke” trope that at the same time he was slashing compensation for teachers, he was increasing the deficit by bestowing $117 million in business tax breaks.)
The reality, of course, is that Walker’s plan is not the only way to fill the $137 million gap; it is a policy choice which, to borrow from Warren Buffett, represents “class warfare . . . but it’s the rich class that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Rather than attacking the living standards of middle class teachers, prison guards and health care workers, Wisconsin policy-makers can easily close this budgetary gap – and reduce surging inequality in the state – by temporarily raising taxes on the superwealthy and corporations.
As economist Dean Baker points out, the tax increase “only needs to be temporary, since the state budget should be fine once the economy recovers.” Business tax cuts in Wisconsin in recent years have reduced the share of state revenues provided by corporate taxes to almost half the level of 20 years ago. By one measure, from the pro-corporate Council on State Taxation, our business tax burden ranks 12th-lowest in the country.
Moreover, as a study by the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future documented, Wisconsin corporations underpay state and local taxes by more than $1.3 billion annually: This is the difference between what businesses actually pay in state and local taxes and what they would be contributing if paying at the average national rate.
Clearly, stanching “corporate tax leakage” ought to be at the heart of any serious deficit reduction strategy in Wisconsin. Instead, Walker wants to further reduce corporate taxes. The accompanying chart illustrates how a modest temporary 1.5% income surcharge on Wisconsin’s superwealthy could generate over $168 million, easily filling the $137 million budgetary gap that Walker claims can only be met by eliminating collective bargaining. Ninety-nine percent of Wisconsin taxpayers would be unaffected by the surcharge; it would apply only to the richest 1% of Wisconsinites, and only on annual income above $260,000, with the largest amount raised from those making more than $1 million annually.
In short, contrary to the governor’s repeated claims, Wisconsin does have options. Walker has made a choice: He would rather mandate 8% compensation cuts on teachers and abolish collective bargaining than levy a temporary 1.5% income surcharge on the superwealthy. Walker’s choice, however, damages the state’s social fabric, contributes to growing inequality in the state, and harms our prospects for future economic prosperity. We can do better.
To be sure, Wisconsin still needs to manage a $3.6 billion deficit in the 2011-2013 budget cycle. But rather than trying to meet that challenge by attacking middle-class workers and by gutting spending on, say, public education, we would be better served by a balanced plan that makes spending cuts where they would be prudent, and raises revenues in ways that reduce inequality and are least damaging to the most vulnerable.
There’s been much rhetoric about the need for “shared sacrifice” and “belt tightening” to meet the state’s budgetary challenge; it’s time for reality to match some of that rhetoric and end the class warfare being waged against Wisconsin’s workers and middle class.
Marc V. Levine is professor of history, economic development, and urban studies at UWM and is founding director of the university’s Center for Economic Development.
February 26, 2011
“Madison Police Estimate Biggest Crowd Yet.”
The Wisconsin State Journal estimated the crowd size at 70,000 at 12:30 PM, which was 2 and a half hours before the rally was to begin. By 3PM over 100,000 anti-Walker marchers filled the capitol square.
I was there on Saturday the 19th with 70,000 marchers and today. This was significantly larger. The density of the crowd in the street was much greater. Plus the capitol building was filled with protestors. Also there was a constant crowd of thousands on the steps and on the snow covered lawn area where the rally was held.
Scott Walker needs to listen to the people.
See the latest online video from Madison and constant updates from around the country with GRITtv and the amazing progressive reporter Laura Flanders at:
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.
Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group. He was a Lutheran theologian who survived imprisonment in the Sashsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937-45.
February 25, 2011
Interview with Professor of Economics Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University
The following video interview from the Lawrence O’Donnell Show clearly explains who is behind the Walker policies. He says that billionaires want to crush the unions and demonize teachers to weaken the middle class politically and economically. They want to further drive down wages and increase their profits.
He says there are deficits because the rich aren’t paying taxes. Their goal is no taxes, no environmental controls and to have a cheap labor force.
To see the full 5 minute interview go to: