Dear Governor Walker – Here’s how to balance the budget without hurting children, families, seniors, and cities (hint – have a cup of coffee with Senator Vinehout)

With the Joint Finance Committee fast – tracking your budget proposals, it’s time to be completely honest about your budget, Governor. It’s difficult for you – but let’s pretend for a minute you actually care about the people of Wisconsin. Let’s say you set aside an ideology being executed at the national level by corporate interests with very deep pockets. Forget the fact that no matter what the political outcome for you today, your benefactors will most certainly take care of you – just like they took care of Tommy Thompson. Let’s say, hypothetically, that your very future relies on you doing the right thing for the people who live, work, and die in Wisconsin. Yes, this is a stretch – let’s say you actually reach across the aisle to a State Senator from a very rural district for advice on the budget. Your poll numbers are plummeting, recalls are threatening Senate control, and you need to show you can compromise (again, this is a stretch). You’ve heard that Senator Vinehout (D – Alma) drafted a budget in response to her constituents’ concerns. You sit down for a cup of coffee with her to hear her ideas.

State Senator Kathleen Vinehout represents a large portion of Western Wisconsin, primarily Monroe, Jackson, Buffalo, Trempealeau, and portions of other surrounding counties. It is a heavily rural area dotted with small cities and towns, bracing for a heavy impact from the Walker budget – primarily in schools and municipal services. After the budget hearings in her area were abruptly canceled, Senator Vinehout presented her own budget as a comparison to Governor Walker’s. Her constituents were able to have their concerns heard, at least by the legislators present at this “impromptu” hearing. What Vinehout proposes is (in her own words) not flashy, and won’t make any headlines. It tells the truth about Wisconsin’s fiscal situation, and protects the Wisconsin Idea – governing policy that benefits the greatest number of people, not an elite few. Here are the highlights of the issues addressed by her budget proposal. To begin, her plan presumes the acceptance of  public employee benefit contributions, already agreed to by unions.

Truth #1 – We are not broke. In a biennial revenue comparison by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Governor Walker has $2.2 Billion MORE in revenue to work with(2011-2013) than Jim Doyle had in his last biennium (2009-2011). This has to be the starting point for anyone seriously interested in an honest budget creation and negotiation. Any other assessment at this point is an outright lie.

Truth #2 – Governor Walker’s Budget Increases Spending. We have to be honest about this fact. In a Legislative Fiscal Bureau comparison of appropriations and revenue , Walker’s budget spends over $478 million more than Jim Doyle did over the biennium. That’s right, more. Admit it, Governor – we are not broke, and you have plenty of money to maintain state services and programs. So let’s continue this dialogue honestly – where did all that money go?

The Vinehout Budget Amendments address fiscal priorities that affect children, families, seniors, and municipalities. These are the issues that will have most impact on the majority of Wisconsinites. If you want to have an honest budget debate with an eye on the future – look at how the Walker Budget addresses these groups. Page 1 of Senator Vinehout’s amendments would restore the cuts to General Fund Programs to the tune of $505 million. This would include:

Restore School Aid Cuts – $351 million

Restore Aid to Rural Schools – $2.98 million

Restore Alcohol and Drug Abuse Grants – $8.7 million

Restore Senior Care – $15 million

Restore Municipal Aid Funding – $37.4 million

Reverse Tax Increase to Earned Income Tax Credit – $41.3 million

Restore Reduction to Tech College Aid – $17 million

These cuts in the Walker budget (by any honest observation) target groups that are not only the most vulnerable, but have the greatest impact on the future of the state. Educating children in an outstanding public school system, services for senior health care and vulnerable populations, fiscal aid to keep cities strong and vibrant, all make sense in continuing an economic and social recovery in Wisconsin. Page 2 of the Vinehout Budget Amendments shows where state revenue is going in the Walker Budget, and the difference in priorities. Keep in mind Walker has chosen to make cuts to the above groups – schools, children, families, and municipalities. The Vinehout plan would revert the following funds back to General Revenue to support the programs cut in the Walker Budget.

 Charter Schools – While cutting funds to public education, the Walker budget spends over $40 million in combined funds to support expansion of charter schools. There is no unbiased evidence that charter schools work any better in educating children than public schools. In fact, there is less accountability and lower standards across the board for charters. It is easy to measure success against low standards. This charter expansion is an experiment at the expense of public schools and children. Let’s be clear – no one has advocated INCREASING money to public schools, merely keeping current expenditures in line.

Executive Salaries – In supposedly tight economic times, over $10 million dollars is going to salary and fringe benefit increases in the Department of Administration and Governor’s offices. Enough said.

Tax Cuts to Large Corporations – $52 million dollars in combined reporting losses. This is a boondoggle for giant, multi-segment corporations. It allows these companies to combine tax data to “report” a business  “loss” for a fiscal year, even from out-of-state segments of its business. Under the proposed law, the Department of Revenue could not even investigate a reported loss – the corporation’s word has to be accepted as genuine. This lack of oversight will certainly lead to abuse of this tax policy.

Tax Cuts to the Top 2% income bracket – Cuts in Capital Gains taxes will lead to a loss of $36.3 million in tax revenue. The wealthiest individuals benefit from this policy change – that is a fact from LFB analysis. Again, enough said.

“Economic Development Corporation” – $35 million in another corporate boondoggle. The mere existence of this state – sponsored agency propagates the myth that tax cuts create jobs. This is merely taxpayer money going to corporations that already avoid paying taxes, in an all out grab for state resources. It rewards corporations favored by the Governor’s office; who has authority to create agency policies.

Governor Walker, if you were actually willing to have that cup of coffee with Senator Vinehout and really listen, you would realize the Vinehout Budget proposal addresses issues critical to Wisconsin, and maintains collective bargaining rights while balancing the budget. If the numbers of Wisconsinites supporting you actually understood the truth about your budget (rather than relying on half-truth talking points), the demonstrations would be even larger. The truth is, you don’t care. Any hope anyone has of you actually doing what is right for Wisconsin is a false one. The tax cuts and spending in your budget will benefit a select few – and truth be told, create very few new jobs while creating a greater burden on the ever-shrinking middle class. That is what you have been paid to do (isn’t it?), and perhaps that’s how you sleep at night. Enjoy the remaining time you have in the Governor’s Mansion. The more people find out about the effects of your policies, the more likely your recall. Your ideological marriage to the new Robber Barons will be your demise – these are not Wisconsin values. 

Let’s send a message! Save the “Vinehout Budget Amendments” pdf file from the link, and email them to Governor Walker (govgeneral@wisconsin.gov) with a message that you want him to prioritize what is right for Wisconsin – not a select few favored corporations and wealthy. It may not change his mind, but he’ll know we are paying attention, and will hold him accountable.

Postscript: More specific budget information can be found in previous Badger Democracy blogs on Education , Families, and Municipalities.

Conservative Budget propaganda disclosed and debunked (or an open letter to Conservative friends and family)

After spending some quality time with the conservative part of my family (which is most), and recent interaction with conservative friends; I feel it necessary to address some issues that conservatives cannot see for what they are – Propaganda. Between Scott Walker, the Fitzgerald brothers, Paul Ryan, and other conservative pundits, politicians, and ideologues; we have been hearing a lot of talk about fiscal policy and the direction they feel we ought to take. Their defense (or offense, as it were) and promotion of their ideas is hinging on the general populace believing some key ideas. In fact, without their ability to “sell” us these ideas, they are left with philosophies demonstrating disregard for working families, and favoritism to the wealthy corporate interests continuing their hold on political and fiscal  power.

Webster’s dictionary defines propaganda as 1.) the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. Or, 2.) ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause. The right is attempting the worst kind of propaganda – that structured on lies – repeated over and over again until it is believed to be true. They also extoll poor comparisons and out-of-context research (or poor research) to support their claims, and further their agenda. These fiscal untruths form the basis for their budgetary attacks on the working class. Enough is enough. Time for the truth – share this information, know it, save it, understand it. If you are a conservative – have the courage to embrace fact, and abandon hollow ideology.

Propaganda item #1 – “We are broke…” – On February 11, 2011, Governor Scott Walker declared these words as he unveiled his “Budget Repair Bill,” claiming this issue and his policies to offset the deficit are non-negotiable, preventing a fiscal catastrophe. It has been repeated over, and over, and over – most recently by Paul Ryan in announcing his budget plan in Washington, DC. Not only is their claim false, it is a deliberate distortion based on their own policies creating this “crisis.” The repeated mantra then serves to create fear amongst the general populace that our government is about to go broke, or the America as we know it is about to crumble. Nothing could be further from the truth. Prior to Scott Walker taking office, the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau released a memo to Legislators Vos and Darling regarding the Bureau’s non-partisan state fiscal condition. The date of the memo is January 31, 2011, seen here:

2011_01_31Vos&Darling - Referencing page 2 shows a budget surplus, even after the statutory required balance of $65 million, of over $56 million. The current bienium did not show a deficit until Scott Walker signed his first corporate tax breaks into effect in February; then proceeded to push for “emergency budget repair” to fix the current deficit HE created. Reading further into the memo shows a forecasted deficit (not as much as Walker predicted) based largely on the recessive national economy – but showing state revenue growth of approximately 4% over the two bieniums. As stated by Senator Erpenbach’s office, a few minor fiscal adjustments could have solved our deficit issues, with no need to slash necessary services for working families. The actual numbers can actually be seen here, in the fiscal portion of the “Budget Repair Bill” :

2011_04_01_SSSB12_SSAB13 - Page 3 begins the General Fund management plan. The first item lapses the fund transfer from DOA to the General Fund. Simply speaking, in 2007 the practice of transferring unallocated DOA funds back to the General Fund began, putting millions into the budget to offset deficits. This bill keeps $79 million untouched in the DOA budget – which would have historically been returned to the General Fund. This sounds complicated, but it’s quite simple. Once surplus funds will remain at the disposal of the DOA (Executive Budget), instead of being returned to the General Fund, that is, the taxpayers, for necessary services. Continuing this practice would have offset the projected deficit just as a single fiscal action. If you combine the above action with continuing current Capital Gains policies (instead of restructuring Capital Gains giving another tax break to the top 1% income bracket); and eliminating the corporate tax breaks signed into law in February; Wisconsin would currently have a fiscal surplus. This would be based on current state finances, keeping all services in tact with economic growth of approximately 4% as predicted by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. If this evidence isn’t enough to prove the ideological propaganda at play to further corporate rewarding policy, here is the Politifact analysis of this claim http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2011/mar/03/scott-walker/wisconsin-gov-scott-walker-says-wisconsin-broke/ .

Propaganda item #2 - “Public Employees have it too good, and their greed is what is breaking the state.” - The intentional misinformation here serves no other purpose than creating inter-class warfare. Pitting middle class workers against each other is a brilliant tactic for “divide and conquer.” There are more of us than wealthy Corporatics, so it is necessary for them to split the majority against itself to maintain their political power. The truth is, public employees have been sacrificing  cost of living and benefits for years prior to this budget discussion. More importantly is debunking the lie surrounding public employee wages. The fact is, when compared to like education levels and experience, public sector wages (including benefits) are on average 8% lower than their private sector counterparts. There have been numerous non-partisan studies – and many partisan studies that do not compare like experience and education levels. The following memo from the Economic Policy Institute (Rutgers University) explains that wages of Wisconsin Public Sector Employees are much lower (12-14%) than Private Sector. Through collective bargaining, unions have offset those lower wages with better benefits (to attract a highly educated workforce) with the result being about 8% lower wages in public sector jobs. EPI_PolicyMemorandum_173

Another study done over 20 years at the University of Wisconsin is linked here. Though much longer, it is worth looking at. This study also concludes Public sector wages are lower than their Private sector counterparts with like education and experience. In addition, the study proves the fact that wage concessions have been made – showing declining real wages in the Public sector over 20 years when adjusted for inflation versus increase in Private Sector wages over the same period of time. UW Public Wage Study . The real availability of this information proves the willingness of the right to ignore fact to spread propaganda to forward their ideology.

Propaganda item #3 -” Lowering Taxes on the Wealthy creates jobs and stimulates the economy.”This lie has been told for years. The Bush tax cuts, supply side supporters said it, and Paul Ryan recently said it in reference to his budget proposal. Specifically, that taxing behavior inhibits that behavior (i.e. cigarettes, alcohol, etc.), so don’t tax the “creation of wealth.” First, the comparisons are not legitimate. It is an apples to oranges comparison at the worst level. It is a proven scientific fact that taxing cigarettes contributed to a decline in their use (with incontrovertable evidence they are a health detriment). The idea that cutting taxes on the rich stimulates the economy is a complete myth, cited only by corporatic ideologues only interested in their own power and influence. With the finalization of fiscal data from the last of the Bush years, the following article appeared in tax.com (September 2010).  http://www.tax.com/taxcom/taxblog.nsf/Permalink/CHAS-89LPZ9 The analysis concludes the policies of the Bush tax cuts accomplished one thing – it put more money into the hands of the wealthy. Jobs and income levels dropped, in fact to levels below 2000 by almost 6%. The ranks of high wage earners ($200K +) increased, while the ranks of the working poor grew. This is important to understand, since Paul Ryan would have us believe dropping the top tier tax rate to 25% (a rate not seen since pre-Depression) will solve our fiscal problems. This is not only historically inaccurate, it is a fantasy. The downward direction of the highest tax rates have only created a larger wealth gap, and created a greater strain on the middle class taxpayer – whose wages have diminished or stagnated while the wealthy continue to control more power and wealth. The following compilation of charts demonstrate the alarming curve towards plutocracy, as instigated by a corporate -controlled legislative process:

First, demonstrating the growing income gap is larger than just prior to the Great Depression: 

   

Next, as of 2007, the top 10% now control over 70% of US wealth and continues to grow:

Next, demonstrating the wage increases CEOs have seen while middle class workers wages stay flat:

Finally, the change in real income – notice which line heads off the chart:

 

The numbers and facts don’t lie. We are not broke – there is a lot of money and wealth in our economy. Public employees are working middle class, just like the vast majority of Americans, and tax cuts will do nothing but widen the disparity of wealth and earning potential for Americans until we have two classes – rich and poor. The goal of this ideology is just that. A single party, plutocracy with wealthy corporations calling the fiscal and political shots for their own benefit. We are on that road, and have been for a long time. These facts and history are being ignored and spun by those implementing these policies, because their money base tells them to. Enough is enough. There are more of us. Educate yourself, share this information and tell the facts. We are the incredible shrinking middle class, and we have to regain our Democracy for future generations.

Look for the next posting – the moral and ethical propaganda machine debunked. One more day – On Wisconsin!

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