In 2008, 56 percent of Wisconsin voters supported Barack Obama for president. In 2009, Wisconsin's Democratic governor and Democratic Legislature passed legislation that raised taxes and fees by about $1.2 billion over three years. State lawmakers approved the bill on the very day it was introduced, with no public hearing. Remember that.
In 2011, the tables have turned. The Assembly has 60 Republicans to 38 Democrats, and the state Senate is weighted 19 Repubs to 14 Dems. GOP Gov. Scott Walker has inherited a budget shortfall that is expected to grow to $3.6 billion over the next two-year budget. He has presented a budget-repair plan that would require most public employees to pay 5.8 percent of their salaries toward their (very generous by private standards) pensions and pay 12.6 percent of their health care premiums. The state is broke, Walker argues, and by essentially cutting workers' compensation by 7 percent, he hopes to avoid layoffs.
Walker's plan also would curb public employees' collective bargaining.
GOP supporters point to the vast chasm between private-sector and public-employee unions: Private-sector unions don't get to pick with whom they negotiate; public-employee unions do, which is why there are no brakes on runaway government spending. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt opposed collective bargaining for government employees.
Besides, as Democrats used to say fondly, elections have consequences.
Walker had the votes to pass his budget-fixer bill. The Dems did not. So, rather than lose in a fair vote, 14 Democratic senators fled the state in order to prevent the quorum necessary to pass Walker's package.
It has been instructive to watch California Democrats reacting to the Wisconsin rout. For years, I've had to listen to them moan about the tyranny of the two-thirds threshold needed to raise taxes and the cheek of Republicans who voted against budgets with tax increases. Now Wisconsin Dems take a powder, and suddenly, those concerns about the minority party having too much power melt away.
Ditto the sermons on civility.
If you've followed the drama, you've seen the signs comparing the governor to Hitler and ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Speaking at a labor rally in Boston, Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., said that sometimes it's necessary to "get a little bloody." And you know about the teachers who skipped school -- and forced schools to close -- in order to protest those lawmakers who weren't playing hooky.
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