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Lies and Truth in Wisconsin

Historian Thomas Carlyle said “a lie cannot live.” However, Mark Twain casually remarked, “It shows that he did not know how to tell them.”

More than a century later, newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature have proven themselves to be “quick studies,” having learned how to tell whoppers about the working class and unions. Here are just a few.

LIE: The public workers’ pensions are what caused much of the financial crisis not just in Wisconsin but throughout the country. Gov. Walker has repeatedly said, “We’re broke . . . We don’t have any money.”

FACTS: Wisconsin had a $120 million surplus whenWalker came into office in January. Had the newly-elected Republican-dominated Legislature in January not given about $140 million in special tax breaks (also known as “corporate welfare”) to business, the state could have had a surplus, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. About two-thirds of all Wisconsin corporations pay no taxes at all, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Wisconsin could also save significant expenses by having state-employed fiscal analysts, not Wall Street investment counselors, handle the entire pension investment portfolio. Wisconsin pays about $28 million to state managers to handle about half the portfolio; it pays about $195 million to Wall Street investment brokers to handle the other half, according to the 2010 annual report of the Wisconsin Investment Board.

Noam Chomsky, in an interview with Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now,” correctly points out, “the population in the United States is angry, frustrated, full of fear and irrational hatreds. And the folks not far from you on Wall Street are just doing fine. They’re the ones who created the current crisis.” The Great Recession has also cost states revenue, not because of the workers’ salaries and pensions but because the values went down because of lax oversight primarily during a Republican administration. Even with the Wall Street crisis, and lower-than-expected revenue, the Wisconsin pension fund is fully funded, able to meet its obligation for several years, according to the independent PEW Center for the States.

Columnist Robert Greenwald says the “shortfall” would be wiped out if Wisconsin brought home only 151 troops from the war in Afghanistan. If the U.S. left Afghanistan completely, the state would save $1.7 billion, according to Greenwald’s analysis.

LIE: The reason the Republicans throughout the country want to end collective bargaining by the public service unions bargaining is to bring fiscal responsibility to the states.

TRUTH: In January 2010, the Supreme Court by a 5–4 decision along party lines declared that corporations enjoy the protection of the First Amendment. This meant that companies could increase funding and advertising for candidates. As expected, the Chamber of Commerce and corporate America gave vast amounts of money to Republican and conservative candidates; labor donated to liberal and Democratic candidates, who traditionally support the working class. In the 2010 mid-term election, seven of the top 10 donors contributed to conservative and Republican candidates. The other three in the Top 10 were labor political action committees. Eliminating collective bargaining for public sector workers would destroy the union movement and significantly reduce the influence of labor in campaigns. Walker has already shown his colors and intent when he was caught in a radio prank. On Feb. 23, Ian Murphy, editor of The Buffalo Beast, pretended to be billionaire David Koch, a supporter of far-right causes, and a major contributor to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign. Punked by the 20-minute call, Walker seemed to be little more than a sycophant for Big Business. The Republicans’ reaction? Instead of worrying about possible ethics violations by the governor, the Republicans planted a bill into the legislature to criminalize prank phone calls

LIE: The unions are greedy and won’t budge.

FACTS: The 267,000 Wisconsin public sector workers, as well as all elected officials, Democrat and Republican, do pay very little to their pensions. However, the unions have already said they’d be willing to pay a higher contribution, essentially taking an 8 percent pay cut, and negotiate fairly other parts of the contracts. Gov. Walker not only refused to budge on his autocratic stand, he refused to take calls from elected Democrats and bluntly told the Milwaukee Journal, “I don’t have anything to negotiate.”

LIE: Gov. Walker’s proposal affects every union in Wisconsin.

TRUTH: He exempted firefighters and police from his draconian assault upon unions, possibly because he was attempting to get support from the first responders, while mining sympathy from the public. What he didn’t count on was that the firefighters and police unions are firm in their opposition to the abolishment of collective bargaining.

LIE: Gov. Walker says he’s just helping the worker when he argues for elimination of the “dues check-off,” saying the workers would have more disposable income.

TRUTH: Eliminating dues check-off would cripple unions, which would have to rely solely upon voluntary contributions.

MYTH: Gov. Walker enjoys wide-spread support for his stand against the unions.

TRUTH: Walker has been governor less than two months. If the election were repeated, he’d receive only about 45 percent of the vote, according to the independent Public Policy Polling (PPP) of Raleigh, N.C. More important, while only 3 percent of Republicans voted for Tom Barratt, the Democratic candidate in the November election, 10 percent of the Republicans say they’d vote for him in a new election, according to PPP. The Republican governors of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana have said they will not follow Walker’s lead, and will support the rights of public workers to bargain collectively. The massive protests in Wisconsin—more than 100,000 in Madison on the same day—and throughout the nation give evidence that Walker doesn’t have the popularity he and his supporters believe. A New York Times/CBS poll, released March 1, indicates only about one-third of the nation supports the campaign against public sector collective bargaining. A week earlier, an independent USA Today/Gallup poll had almost the same results.

LIE: The protestors are unruly, and should be arrested for violating the law.

TRUTH: The First Amendment gives people the right to assemble peacefully. There have been no arrests because there have been no crimes committed by the protestors. Further, when the governor and the Legislature demanded that protestors be thrown out of the state capitol, and not allowed to stay overnight, the chief of the Capitol Police refused to do so, believing the order was a violation of Constitutional rights. In contrast, Walker had actually considered, then rejected, the idea of planting troublemakers among the protestors—a “dirty trick” that dates back to the ’60s.

LIE: Public sector union workers are overpaid.

TRUTH: A USA Today analysis, published March 1, shows that, on average, public service workers, with wages and benefits included, are paid about $2,500 more per year than those in the private sector. In Wisconsin, the difference is only about $1,800. However, government workers usually are “older and substantially better educated than private sector workers,” according to researchers Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thompson, professors of economics at the University of Massachusetts. But, again contrary to the lies spewed by the anti-worker Rabid Right, individual union workers, when compared to the same criteria as private sector workers, actually earn 4 percent less income, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research. In Wisconsin, public sector union workers actually earn 4.8 percent less total compensation, according to research published in February by the Economic Policy Institute. One statistic stands out. “The average member of AFSCME, our largest public-sector union, earns less than $45,000 a year,” says author/journalist Bill Press, “and retires after a career in public service with a whopping pension of $19,000 per year.”

LIE: Public service union workers are lazier than non-unionized private sector workers.

TRUTH: Strong labor unions generally have higher productivity, according to independent research done by Harley Shalen of the University of California, because there is less turnover, better worker communication, better work conditions, and a better-educated workforce.”

Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author of 17 books, is a former newspaper and magazine writer/editor and tenured full professor of mass communications. You may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com.

 

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Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an analysis of the history, economics, and politics of fracking, as well as its environmental and health effects.

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