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Despite hysteria, budget bill should move forward

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Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Feb 17, 2011; Section: Opinion; Page: 8A

Despite hysteria, budget bill should move forward

The bills are due and Wisconsin needs to address spending

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

When Gov. Scott Walker announced the terms of his fix for the current state budget, it was all too easy to predict the mass hysteria that would grip the state employee unions. What surprised even me was the cynicism with which the left-wing leadership would attempt to exploit the hysteria.

In case many in Madison forgot, Walker was elected just last November to rein in state spending. He included in his promises a plan to require state employees to contribute more toward their health care plans and state pensions.

As Walker spelled out in his State of the State address, this state is in dire financial condition. Not only are we facing a $3.6 billion structural deficit in the next biennium beginning in June, the current operating budget is running out of money, too.

Making matters worse, the state owes Minnesota $58.7 million from the tax reciprocity agreement and $225 million to the state medical malpractice fund after Governor Doyle and the Democrats in the Legislature illegally raided that fund.

In the immortal words of loan shark Herman Rabkin from “The Sopranos,” Wisconsin has no wiggle room.

So Walker did what the last several governors failed to do. He created a plan to deal with the immediate budget shortfall that would begin to address the state’s long-term financial problems.

The unions are questioning why it is so important to eliminate their bargaining power for benefits. It’s not just the money that’s going to be saved in the current fiscal biennium, and it’s not the money saved by the state in the next biennium.

This change will also make it easier for local jurisdictions, municipalities, counties and school districts, to deal with their employee costs even as the state is preparing to reduce the amount of aid these units of government receive.

Look how difficult it has been for the Waukesha School District to just change insurance providers away from the teachers union provider. Now that benefits will no longer be on the negotiating table, the school district will have a lot more maneuvering room when it comes to its finances.

This is how the real world works. When companies are unable to meet their costs, they cut. It’s time the government began cutting, too.

It’s certainly what the voters expected last November. It’s even what President Barack Obama implied when he was a candidate complaining about Republican deficits – the good old days compared to the incredible spending spree we have experienced.

It is even what Jim Doyle promised when he first ran for governor against acting Gov. Scott McCallum. Doyle complained about the structural deficit, and now Walker inherited an even bigger budget deficit from Doyle.

Instead of ignoring the problem, as state Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison advises, Walker has decided to address the problem head on.

The unions and their supporters did what they do best. They organized rallies, sending a little over 10,000 people to Madison on Tuesday. They scared people by falsely accusing Walker of wanting to use the National Guard to suppress strikers. The Capital Times columnist John Nichols even called Walker “a dictator” while protesters compared Walker to Hosni Mubarak.

Just in case they didn’t have enough protesters, organizers even yanked children out of the classrooms, even though the students had no clue why. (Another reminder why children should be seen and not heard. Some supposed adult might be putting words in their mouths.)

All of this is supposed to intimidate Republican legislators into backing down. Undoubtedly, in one of the meetings some Republican staffer is saying, “We can’t do this. We’ll alienate the people who will never vote for us in the first place.”

I suspect such ill-considered words of caution will be ignored. As of Tuesday evening, Republican leaders are saying that, despite the protests, they have the votes to pass Governor Walker’s bill.

That’s in part because of the tea party protests last year, and Republican legislators know that this time the public is watching. Will they behave like conservatives? Or will the tea party movement have to hold them accountable in the next primary election?

JAMES WIGDERSON

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