Thousands of volunteers have raced to collect signatures near busy intersections and malls all over Wisconsin, at makeshift “drive-through” operations in parking lots, during Green Bay Packers viewing parties and New Year’s Eve pub crawls, and even at a fold-up table inside Milwaukee’s airport just off Concourse C.
By a state deadline on Tuesday, these volunteers, many of them Democrats and union supporters, say they will submit at least 720,000 names on petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican who curtailed collective bargaining rights for public workers, leading to a face-off in this state.
Only two governors in the nation’s history have lost their jobs in recalls, but Mr. Walker himself acknowledges that, presuming there are no major flaws in the petitions, a recall election appears likely. That puts his removal, which would have a vote in late spring or early summer, within the realm of possibility.
Politicians and political operatives far beyond Wisconsin will be watching closely, not just for what the recall effort may imply for other states’ leaders who are considering cuts to workers’ benefits and union powers as a way to solve budget problems, but also as a sign for the presidential race. Wisconsin was one of several pivotal Midwestern states that gave Barack Obama solid victories in 2008 but then elected Republicans, including Mr. Walker, in significant numbers in 2010. Money from outside the state is certain to pour in from both sides for the recall vote.
In an interview in which Mr. Walker reflected on what he described as his “very surreal” first year in office, he spoke of the outside forces. “I think there’s a real sense that the government unions don’t want anybody — Republican or Democrat — doing this,” Mr. Walker said of his moves to limit benefits and bargaining rights for public workers. “And they’re going to try to make an example of me.”
When a state or local government has budget problems they basically have three options:
1. Cut spending
2. Raise taxes
Borrowing is essentially option #2 but you spend the money now and collect it later. In many states this is not an option due to balanced budget amendments. Throw in other amendments like ones requiring 2/3 majorities and/or voter approval for tax hikes and your options are narrowed to option #1.
There is only so much “waste, fraud and abuse” to cut, and in economic downturns the cuts go beyond trimming fat and start carving meat. You can postpone spending on new infrastructure indefinitely but you can only delay maintenance and repair for so long and then bridges start collapsing.
So what did Scott Walker do that caused so much trouble?
Walker proposed a bill that would require additional contributions by state and local government workers to their health care plans and pensions, amounting to roughly an 8% decrease in the average government worker’s take home pay. The bill also would eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public employees except for wages. Public employees would be unable to seek pay increases above the rate of inflation unless approved by a voter referendum and the unions would have to win annual reauthorization votes and could no longer have dues automatically deducted from workers’ paychecks.
That’s it. No layoffs or pay cuts. Schools are still open.
Since the bill was passed into law the Wisconsin public employees have tried unsuccessfully to replace a crucial swing vote in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and spent millions on a recall election trying to remove six members of the state senate. They removed two senators but failed to gain enough seats to overturn the bill. Now they are seeking to remove Walker.