With the stroke of a pen Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin ended collective bargaining rights for workers in Wisconsin. How is it possible that 50 years worth of hard fought for rights can be ended with the stroke of a pen? Well, the Republicans control both houses of the bicameral legislature and the Governorship in Wisconsin. They can do whatever they want. If tomorrow they wanted to sell off state owned assets to their cronies, they could do it. In fact that's already in the budget bill that they're getting ready to pass next. The only reason that any of this has even come to national attention is that the 14 Democratic Senators, one of whose prescence was required to establish a quorum, left the state so that the original budget bill couldn't be passed. Now that they're back, Republicans have their quorum and can proceed to pass whatever they want. If tomorrow they want to pass a bill declaring that the moon is made of green Wisconsin cheese, they can do it.
These same battles are being fought out in every state in which Republicans have control of the political structure - namely, Ohio, Michigan, Florida and New Jersey among others. Voters, are you happy now? Governor Walker's bill also gives power over the state's Medicaid system known as BadgerCare to a political appointee taking it away from the legislature where it currently resides. Poor people kiss your health care good-bye in the state of Wisconsin. Other states will seek to follow suit. A little talked about provision of Walker's bill is that it would cut off $834 million in funding to the public school system. This would effectively cripple public schools already underfunded and double class sizes. Voters, are you happy now? But wait there's more.
The Walker Budget bill expands the school voucher program to rich kids who want to attend private school and have the state government pay for part of their tuition. The voucher program was a poison pill started ostensibly to help poor black kids get a better education. But Walker's bill would let anyone regardless of income get a government voucher for private school tuition at the same time he is defunding the public school system. This is from the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel:
Voucher advocates have made clear for more than 20 years that their goal is to replace public education with a system of universal vouchers that includes private and religious schools.
The heartbreaking drama currently playing in Milwaukee - millions of dollars cut from the public schools while vouchers are expanded so wealthy families can attend private schools in the suburbs - may be coming soon to a school district near you.
The voucher program started in 1990, billed as an altruistic effort to help a few struggling community schools serving mostly poor black kids. There were only seven schools and 300 students, with the program costing $700,000. To most legislators, it seemed a worthwhile effort, sort of like throwing a few dollars in the church missionary basket.
Even then, however, backers, such as Milwaukee's Bradley Foundation, envisioned a full-scale voucher program. Michael Joyce, the late head of the foundation, made no secret of his belief that public schools were akin to socialism. Vouchers were his free-market alternative.
Bit by bit, budget by budget - as part of a long-term strategy - the program grew. The expansions always were couched in fine-sounding rhetoric that cloaked the program's harm to public education.
This year, taxpayers are paying $131 million for the private school tuition of 21,000 students - making vouchers, in essence, one of the state's largest school districts, on par with Madison, Racine, Kenosha and Green Bay. With the expansion, vouchers will become the state's second-largest district, just behind Milwaukee.
All along, hard-core voucher proponents were using poor black kids as pawns in their voucher chess game. More than a decade ago, a strategy paper for the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation likened vouchers for low-income children to a "viable beachhead," a way "to win and hold new ground in the long march to universal school choice."
Today, in Milwaukee, that long march is just about over. Vouchers are to be open, eventually, to any Milwaukee family, no matter how rich, to attend a private school anywhere in the county. The children of Milwaukee millionaires could conceivably receive $6,442 next year to help pay the $20,423 high school tuition at the private University School.
The Walker budget goes out of its way to help voucher schools and harm Milwaukee Public Schools. While voucher funding will increase, with no limit on how much, MPS faces untold millions in budget cuts. Some of those cuts are directly due to vouchers, which reduce the amount of state aid MPS otherwise would receive.
Milwaukee taxpayers, meanwhile, are forced to pick up the tab for more than a third of the voucher bill; already they pay $50 million a year.
Overall, Walker is cutting $834 million in public education - eliminating state funding for school nurses, Advanced Placement courses, alternative education and children at-risk programs. There are also significant cuts in programs such as the school breakfast program, Head Start and bilingual aid. Funding for special education and other essential programs is flat, with no additional money even if need increases.
Taken as a whole, the Walker budget is a blueprint for expanding private schools and destroying public schools. And there's nothing to stop this tragedy from spreading to the entire state.
Unless, of course, legislators do the right thing and protect the American dream of a free and public education for all children.
So in addition to busting unions and privatizing the state's power plants, Walker's stealth plan includes defunding public schools and using the state's supposedly limited resources to fund an unlimited voucher program that pays part of a wealthy kid's tuition at a private school. Of course, poor kids will hardly be able to take advantage of Walker's Brave New World voucher program as they won't be able to afford the rest of the tuition. They will have served their purpose as "beachhead establishers." Again government taxpayer funds are used to help the wealthy at a time in which there is supposedly a budget crisis. But wait there's more. Walker's ginned up, phony "financial crisis" was brought on in the first place by his having given $140 million in tax cuts to corporations just after taking office. Then like Chicken Little he rushed out to announce that there was a $137 million budget deficit and draconian measures including busting unions, privatizing power plants and the public school system, screwing with BadgerCare and making elected state officeholders political appointees would of necessity have to be taken. Er, Walker you could rescind those tax breaks to your cronies... Just a thought.
Well, what does all this have to do with my main theme that Walker's power play of union busting and privatizing will look like child's play compared to what will happen on a national scale after Republicans win big in 2012? Simply this: if with a stroke of a pen Walker could reverse 50 years of progress in workers' rights, with the stroke of a pen the new Republican President backed by a Republican House and Senate (not to mention a Republican Supreme Court) can with a stroke of a pen put an end to Social Security and Medicare. The precedent has already been established that, despite a worker's having paid into social security over a lifetime, he or she has no constitutionally protected right to any of that money. Congress has the right to change the laws governing Social Security and Medicare at any time that they so choose.
This is from the Supreme Court's ruling in the Flemming vs Nestor case:
"The fact that workers contribute to the Social Security program's funding through a dedicated payroll tax establishes a unique connection between those tax payments and future benefits. More so than general federal income taxes can be said to establish 'rights' to certain government services. This is often expressed in the idea that Social Security benefits are 'an earned right.' This is true enough in a moral and political sense. But like all federal entitlement programs, Congress can change the rules regarding eligibility--and it has done so many times over the years. The rules can be made more generous, or they can be made more restrictive. Benefits which are granted at one time can be withdrawn, as for example with student benefits, which were substantially scaled-back in the 1983 Amendments.
"There has been a temptation throughout the program's history for some people to suppose that their FICA payroll taxes entitle them to a benefit in a legal, contractual sense. That is to say, if a person makes FICA contributions over a number of years, Congress cannot, according to this reasoning, change the rules in such a way that deprives a contributor of a promised future benefit. Under this reasoning, benefits under Social Security could probably only be increased, never decreased, if the Act could be amended at all. Congress clearly had no such limitation in mind when crafting the law. Section 1104 of the 1935 Act, entitled 'RESERVATION OF POWER,' specifically said: 'The right to alter, amend, or repeal any provision of this Act is hereby reserved to the Congress.' Even so, some have thought that this reservation was in some way unconstitutional. This is the issue finally settled by Flemming v. Nestor.
"In this 1960 Supreme Court decision Nestor's denial of benefits was upheld even though he had contributed to the program for 19 years and was already receiving benefits. Under a 1954 law, Social Security benefits were denied to persons deported for, among other things, having been a member of the Communist party. Accordingly, Mr. Nestor's benefits were terminated. He appealed the termination arguing, among other claims, that promised Social Security benefits were a contract and that Congress could not renege on that contract. In its ruling, the Court rejected this argument and established the principle that entitlement to Social Security benefits is not contractual right."
So these rights could go out the window with a stroke of a pen regardless of whether or not it had even been an issue in the campaign. And, although it is unthinkable to the average middle class American, Social Security benefits could be abruptly ended for everyone including current recipients with the stroke of a pen. It's not unthinkable, and the thinkable is definitely possible. Did Scott Walker make union busting a campaign issue? Of course not. The plan was to bust the unions, privatize the power plants and school system on a stealth basis before anyone knew what hit them. Thanks to the 14 Democratic Senators who absconded from Wisconsin, it didn't quite turn out that way. But that will not prevent Republicans from abolishing Social Security and Medicare when they gain control over the national governmental apparatus in 2012.
So voters and Tea Partiers, I ask again will you be happy then? After you have given total control of the US government to Republicans and they have ruined the public education system, privatized everything they can get their hands on and ended Social Security and Medicare? Of course they will be happy because Rush Limpballs, Glenn Beck, Fox News and assorted hate mongers will tell them that they have practically entered the Promised Land of Low Taxes and Small Government (except for the military-industrial complex). The billionaire Koch brothers will use their billions to run ads convincing voters of how happy they will be if only they will elect a Republican President in 2012 along with Republican majorities in the House and Senate. And like lemmings, Tea Partiers will follow them off the cliff. And all those mooches on taxpayer's money - the welfare queens, seniors and poor people - forget them. They are losers who should go out and get a job.