This last week has been stressful. I work for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, and the recent political crisis in Wisconsin is affecting me directly. This has made it very hard for me to work on my writing, but at the same time it has given me a very good reason to keep trying. After all, if things keep going they way they’re headed I may need the additional income that publishing might provide.
In case you have been living under a rock, here is my take on the situation. Last fall, Scott Walker was elected Governor of Wisconsin with 52% of the vote. Not exactly a landslide election, right? And yet, immediately after the results were announced he has acted as if he is God’s gift to the Dairy State. Before he even took office he started setting policy by sending a letter to the current Governor Jim Doyle demanding that he cease any efforts to finish off any policies that were currently pending. That included a union contract for state employees that had been in negotiations for the last two years and was close to being finished.
Once Walker took office in January he took official actions that resulted in the loss of millions of federal stimulus dollars and more millions in tax cuts for the wealthy, all while whining about the budget shortfall that he was trying to correct. Then in February he dropped the bomb of how he planned to fix the deficit that he had just made even bigger: by making state employees pay for it. He wanted us to pay a larger amount to our pensions and a greater percentage of health care costs, with no increase in pay.
Now, the main reason why the state employees have those benefits is because their pay is so low to begin with. Even with the benefits package that we have, our overall compensation for the work that we do is roughly 8% less than in the private sector. So with the changes he is proposing it will be like taking an additional 10% pay cut.
But that’s not enough for Walker. He has also proposed legislation that will prohibit state employees from forming a union to represent them in anything but wages, which would also be restricted to the Consumer’s Price Index and linked to inflation. The only unions exempt from this would be for police and fire fighters.
Is it any surprise that one of the first public comments that Walker made after announcing this bill was that he had informed the National Guard to be on standby? The protests of the last week have been peaceful so far, but it should tell you something about Walker. He knew that this was the wrong thing to do, and it was not going to be done without a fight, yet he attempted to ram this through as quickly as possible anyway, without giving the public the chance to speak. His initial plans were to have the bill out of the Finance Committee and through the legislature by Wednesday. The only reason why it wasn’t was because the Democratic Senators left the state to prevent a quorum and give people more time.
Now the unions have said that they are willing to accept the financial changes to the contracts in the interests of the state, but there is no compromise by the Republican Party. The sole intent of this bill is to kill the unions. Other states, and even the President, are watching the situation in Wisconsin very closely. If this passes in Wisconsin you can bet that it will be repeated soon somewhere else.
I don’t really care what your personal political stance is. Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t really matter. I have read blog posts that cover both sides of the issue, and both sides make some good points. The important thing about this mess for me is that Governor Walker is attempting to strip me of my civil liberties. Just because I work for the state doesn’t mean that I should be treated like a slave. In my experience most state employees are very dedicated to serving the public, and they don’t deserve to be treated in this manner.
More about me: As I said, I work for the Department of Revenue. I am a tax collector. My job is to get people to pay their taxes. This can mean taking some rather harsh actions, like garnishing wages or seizing bank accounts. My viewpoint was that I was helping people pay their fair share of taxes, whether they wanted help or not. That meant that I was also willing to help them when the collection actions that were taken were too harsh, like reducing the amount of their wages being garnished, or by returning some of the funds seized by a bank levy. If Walker’s proposal goes through, what reason will I have to make those efforts? Why should I care if someone loses their home, as long as their taxes get paid? Isn’t that what the Republicans want? They’re the ones in office, so why not act like them and concentrate solely on getting more money from the middle and lower class?
Thanks for letting me rant. It’s interesting being in the middle of history in the making. Keep watching the news. I’m sure this is just the start.