All across the nation Americans are in crisis. But the battle over unions, the human rights of working people in Wisconsin, and what has become now a fight for democracy itself, has sharply defined the real deficit we face: it is moral and not fiscal.
There are multitudes of budget crises on all levels of government in the United States: there is a shortfall of public money versus expenditures. We have a genuine series of budget deficits. But that crisis pales in comparison for residents of the State of Wisconsin as they confront the behavior of Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature and the Governor’s office.
Out of an immense self-knowledge that both Democrats and Republicans are subject to the weakness and evil inherent in the frailty of the human condition, what the great Jewish Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth was able to crystallize with the comment “let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” human beings are yet permitted to stand by and objectively document and highlight a moral lapse of faith when it is plain to them. The events in Wisconsin this past month and more highlight just such a moral lapse.
While the world holds its breath at the destruction ravaged on Japan by a geophysical earthquake and tsunami with far more immediate and serious results, requiring our complete attention and sympathy, what is going on in Wisconsin and all over the nation in regard to working middle class Americans and the always suffering poor is no less a moral upheaval of the same proportions.
Democrats can behave just as badly. But at present, perhaps they are too ineffectual and lack the will and the ability to act the way Republicans are acting nationwide. So we will be forced at present to concentrate on the lapse of moral behavior as reflected in the priorities of Republicans in Wisconsin. Struggles For Justice will be specific.
Governor Walker was elected by the people of the State of Wisconsin last November in an election where voters who did turn out were expressing deep anxiety over jobs and the state of the economy and worries over the tax burden in a time of austerity and depression. Walker’s and his party’s most effective path to electoral success last November was the promise of 250,000 new family supporting jobs if Wisconsin citizens merely cast votes for the Republican candidates.
Now let us examine the accomplishments of the Walker Administration and a compliant and spineless group of sycophants who occupy seats in the state legislature.
In a deeply counterintuitive move (to put the best possible construction upon it) Walker rejected two Federal Stimulus projects worth a total of $1.2 billion and creating up front 4,870 new jobs in the state. None of the money was to come out of the state treasury and operation of what was to be created afterward would or could be picked up by the Federal government at 90% percent of the cost. There was absolutely no moral or fiscal advantage nor practical advantage in rejecting this rare bit of largesse from the Feds.
In the opening days of the special session of the legislature and in Walker’s first days in office, five pieces of legislation with tax breaks to corporate interests were passed totaling $140 million dollars. Suddenly, a tiny $56 million state surplus at the beginning of the year had become a $137 million dollar fiscal deficit, with $221 million in unfunded state obligations coming on directly after. But it must be noted that the initial action of Walker was to make the fragile state of the state’s fiscal condition worse at the outset.
Walker’s solution was to come out suddenly and totally unexpectedly for what amounts to an effective end to collective bargaining rights for public servants in Wisconsin, in addition to the expected concessions on pension and health payments by workers the Governor did campaign on. Collective bargaining was not on the ballot in any way or a central or even peripheral part of the Walker and Republican campaign in the fall of 2010. This is a serious moral breach of faith with voters who were not voting for anything beyond some needed concessions by public employees in health and retirement.
Moreover, the Governor required that the Budget Repair Bill be passed into law within six days of his announcement of this great new initiative in collective bargaining, something that has worked well in the state through good times and bad since 1959. Such a major legislative decision requires the long deliberation of both the legislature and people of the state. Walker refused to permit it. In an act of moral courage by contrast, fourteen Wisconsin Senators left the State simply to permit air and light to come into the room to reveal the deep economic as well as civil rights dimensions of the Governor’s proposed changes to collective bargaining. To their immense credit, public employees and their unions uniformly pledged to make the concession on pension and health payments demanded by Republicans to help all the people of Wisconsin, and to induce the Governor to merely speak with them at the table to better decide this immense question to hundreds of thousands of working citizens of the state concerning collective bargaining. Walker refused to talk with them and engage them seriously and with any respect for them.
Walker had a phone conversation with a make-believe industrial magnate where he made absolutely clear he was selling the state to out-of-state corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us. The entire nation heard detailed recorded conversation that speaks for itself. At no time has the Governor’s Office denied the phone call was made and received and that the Governor actually did say what he is heard to have said. This astounded anyone with a sense of good, clean, honest government in Wisconsin.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus but it will never be Governor Scott Walker and it gets worse.
On Ash Wednesday, at the very time perhaps a million Wisconsin voting citizens were in church exercising their freedom of religion and with just one hour and fifty-one minutes prior notice, the Republican Senate ignored the fiscal crisis facing the state and passed a law ending collective bargaining in all but a very small area for public employees in the state. This represented a huge betrayal of moral trust for a large number of our state’s citizens and it vastly increased the moral deficit piling up on the Republicans from actions THEY continued to take knowingly, with forethought, and in a manner that appears to this day mean-spirited.
Walker then introduced a complicated state budget proposal that balances the state budget on the backs of middle class state employees, immigrants, the elderly, the poor and just about anybody who is vulnerable in our society while leaving the wealthy and powerful not only untouched, but actually further advantaged.
These are the plain facts and a citizen is obligated to take heed of them.
The Wisconsin Open Meetings Law was openly defied by Republicans in the legislature and not Democrats. This law was directly and distinctly violated in the Ash Wednesday Ambush. The moral trust of all citizens was profoundly violated here.
Oh, and by the way Virginia, Santa Claus does not come until next January 2012 when Scott Walker will be recalled as Governor. Hundreds of thousands of citizens began an intervention to prevent further moral lapses on the part of their government. Thus far the patient has refused to acknowledge their addiction to immoral behavior but there is hope.
The betrayal of moral trust extends beyond Wisconsin to Indiana, Ohio, Florida, New Jersey and even to the nation’s capitol. Republicans face not a fiscal crisis, but a deepening moral deficit that erodes democracy and republican government. Our most serious deficit is moral and not fiscal.