In The News
Campaign Wars Part 3: The snake oil that Walker is good for schools
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted July 25, 2011
Among the campaign strategies on the GOP side, one heavy hitter is likely to land ever harder just before the Aug. 9 elections -- the gathering press releases from throughout GOP regions that claim, using very similar printouts, that schools and towns are saving money because of Gov. Walker’s elimination of public worker bargaining rights.
The claims are partly true if you look only at one aspect of the emasculation. Other elements such as eliminating paycheck union dues and requiring annual certification are likely to cost the taxpayers money as well as the resentment of workers and the departure of many of the best.
Still, where there are no union contracts to control the pace of the slicing, mandating higher pension contributions and health premium payments will obviously reduce some local costs – and where it hasn’t happened and doesn’t make much difference, you can be sure the Republicans won’t discuss the moral bind many communities are going through in losing the democratic concept of to-and-fro negotiations. They’ll concentrate on how it ought to work even when it doesn’t and that local officials, if they know what’s good for them, had better take advantage.
The GOP is actually shocked that many elected officials resist – and no wonder. They’ve peeked deeper under the hood of this political gamesmanship.
All these supposed savings are financial flummery, premature as well as deliberately aborted projections. The full term of Walker’s budget is two years. These announcements are based on the first year of a two year budget that back-ends the economic suffering facing all the state’s schools and communities. His minions are cutting in half the gestation period they created.
It’s not unions saying this, though they’ll be happy to hear what even local Republican officials and research exposed. School administrators and municipal analysts across the political spectrum say it’s the second year that will really put these local budgets underwater -- and they complain that only lazy journalists would not do the full math and look down the road.
Several also point out that, when even Doyle cut aid to education expecting federal help, he pledged to restore the full level of state funding and local options in the next budget. The first thing Walker did was break that promise. The second was to take far more money away from education and then prevent municipalities their avenues of revenue compensation.
These local officials – and many hardly love public unions – suggest that all this background, all the political oversimplifications, don’t touch the real danger facing local government in the future.
The loss of equal power bargaining assumes a unity on the local conservative side that doesn’t exist, they point out, as any school board meeting or squabbling among conservative city officials would tell you. And they can cite chapter and verse of the dysfunction and power-grabbing that keeps even conservative boards from balancing the needs of children, educators and taxpayers.
The focus of union bargainers at least kept the opposition on track. Off the record, the conservative officials fear the extremists will now go off the rails without another side to balance them. The behavior of many in the GOP majority, who are clearly bending to political pressure, does not reassure them
That was underscored July 21 when a diverse collection of administrators accused Walker of misrepresentation when he said his budget would put schools in a “good financial position” – an educated view that many uneducated party loyalists tried to refute. From Racine to Eau Claire, the experts debunked the idea that forcing larger class sizes, lower quality and less services and narrower instruction was any way forward. They described Walker’s tools as ways to dismantle not build education.
Similar games are being played by GOP defenders about health insurance. The right-wing McIver Foundation screams about how dropping the teacher-supported WEA Trust saved the Hartford schools $800,000, neglecting news stories about how switching to the WEA Trust was saving the Marshfield schools even more money, while many other school districts (Kenosha, Turtle Lake, Marinette, La Crosse) opted to stay with WEA as cost-saving measures..
Nuances sure disappear when both sides are yelling. The public has to employ its own principles of fair play and common sense to sort through the claims and counter-claims of who saves and who loses. It’s actually too soon to pass judgment on unfolding consequences. The public might like simple fast answers, but they usually don’t exist in the real world -- and they certainly don’t make a good political ad.
Citizens instead will have to measure fair treatment on reason and past experiences – unless, of course, they are willing to be stampeded into abandoning the deliberate pace of democracy and embrace fascism.
What we seem to have right now is a state where even many traditional Republicans know Walker needs to be curtailed, but wonder if recall elections are the best way to do it. The GOP thinks it’s doing its side good with hyped-up voodoo math, 30-second sound-bites and brutal images and overstatements. The recall candidates plug away at the incumbents’ established disregard of seniors, working families and their kids.
The GOP argues that recalls are too extreme; the opposition argues that one-sided one-party rule has proven too extreme. It is rare that an election forces voters to move between exremes and directly confront their own conscience, but August 9 requires just that regardless of original party labels.