Friday, April 22, 2011

Budget choices guaranteed to cause more suffering - oh, and happy Earth Day

Well, not for road-builders. They make out like bandits in Walker's budget schemes. Too bad the poor and elderly didn't contribute more lavishly to his campaign.

I try not to be sarcastic and cynical, but just a short perusal of the bipolar Journal Sentinel sinks my spirits on this cold, damp, gloomy day.

Utility companies have started shutting off gas and electricity to folks who are struggling to pay their bills. This is allowed in what is supposedly the world's most advanced state. How we interpret what it means to be advanced apparently does not include providing heat and lights for people who have not a prayer of paying escalating food, housing, and other costs in a time of high unemployment and an economic recovery that seems only to ease the suffering of the very rich and powerful. So folks in our communities are lining up in search of assistance to keep the lights on.

How 'bout this one? Aurora Sinai Hospital, one of the most crucial health care safety nets for low income folks in our city, will lose $9.4 million in Walker's budget, funds that help pay for these services. There are a lot of wealthy, powerful people who don't think we all share a social responsibility to care for the most vulnerable among us. I have a dispute with that value system.

Then there are the political scandals that continue to taint the Walker administration. Yet another of his hires has been called into question, this time a campaign worker appointed to be register of deeds for Marinette County, a person with absolutely no experience to qualify her for this job, but who just happens to be the friend of Repub Rep. John Nygren. Renee Miller, the appointee who started the job last week, is also married to Nygren's campaign treasurer.

Just as in the case of Walker's aborted attempt to give a $81,500 per year job at the Commerce Dept. to the 27-yr-old son of Jerry Deschane, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Builders Association, a major campaign donor to Walker, several highly qualified, experienced people were overlooked for the register of deeds job, and now some of them are leaving in disgust.

Some clean government, right? And compassion? Nope. The poor and vulnerable populations are taking the biggest hit in these budget cuts while businesses get tax cuts, tax credits, loosened regulations, and an anti-labor environment.

Meanwhile, we will have a voter recount in the Supreme Court race, recall efforts continue, and it looks like the summer could be more interesting than usual as several of these efforts are likely to mean elections come June or July.

What I think about a lot is that, while we continue to vigorously defend the right of workers to organize and to collectively bargain - in both the public and private sectors - we also must vigorously defend the right of the poor and vulnerable populations to lives of dignity and basic well-being. The suffering out there is real even before this budget passes. I saw yesterday that Dunkin' Donuts is hiring, and I thought about how many of the people applying once had good-paying jobs, or how in the world someone could pay rent or mortgage, food bills, health insurance premiums, heat and gas bills, transportation costs, and clothes and shoes for their families on the kind of wages these jobs will pay. Of course, they could also apply at McDonalds. They're hiring, too. Just don't try to raise a family on the income.

What I also thought about is how Walker pretty much loathes the City of Milwaukee, how he and the Fitzgeralds and other Repub legislators tend always to see the city as a problem to be axed rather than a source of potential transformation that could impact the entire state - if we bothered to invest in the human beings who live here.

So let's end this discouraging post with this other bombshell  that you probably know by now - an insider with the law firm Foley and Lardner has confirmed that Walker is indeed working on municipal 'reform' legislation similar to Michigan's 'financial martial law' that granted power to the governor to take over municipal governments in the event of a financial crisis. The effort has already begun in Benton Harbor with scary effect. The law firm source says the Wisconsin version won't be as punitive as Michigan's; however, according to bdgrdemocracy:

In confirming this activity, it leads to the question of accountability which now begins. There is no stopping the lawyer/lobbyist from drafting such a bill on behalf of the group(s) who sign the paycheck. There is, however, a constitution that guarantees free, open, and honest debate over these “private interest” corporate pieces of legislation. Although I was encouraged the suggested language in this bill-soon-to-appear is less authoritarian than first presumed; I feel we must be more vigilant during its introduction. Now is the time for pre-emptive publicity and making our thoughts known on this topic – lest it be introduced and passed in 7.5 minutes in the dead of night; with amendments making it every bit as authoritarian as the Michigan Legislation. There are already laws requiring fiscal responsibility in Wisconsin, and municipalities ELECT officials to do just that. This legislation referenced here continues the overwhelming power consolidation to the Governor’s Office, and his Secretaries. [emphasis added]
Hard to believe these folks don't have Milwaukee in their sights. At the same time, I certainly don't believe the city and its residents will take this passively should an attempt be made to take over city finances.

So, it's Earth Day, another moment that has Wisconsin in the limelight. Founded by Gaylord Nelson, inspired by people like Aldo Leopold, maybe it can help us to dig deeper into our best progressive traditions here to help us find the focus we need to challenge this state government that was actually not elected. Oh, these people were elected, all right, but not these policies, which are proving to be immensely unpopular and shocking even to some of those buyers' remorse folks who are regretting their votes last November.

If this is true, then it is up to them and all of us to move this state in a different direction than the one suggested by Walker's agenda, one that restores to the core of our culture values like justice and decency, compassion and integrity, one that asks the most of those who have the most, rather than balancing budgets on the backs of the poor, the vulnerable, the struggling.

A sacred weekend for many. May all our risings encourage us in the days ahead.


"The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard."
— Gaylord Nelson

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