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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Scott Walker's Alternate-Reality Version of Wisconsin

Scott Walker delivers the 2012 State of the State address
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker scheduled his annual State of the State address the night after President Obama delivered the State of the Union. It says a lot about how little press he hoped to get with his speech. He probably would've scheduled it for the same night, so it wouldn't have even been broadcast, but at a certain point the attempt to hide something becomes attention-worthy in itself, and I suppose that would've been a national news story. So the night after would have to do. In any case, the truth was not invited.

Wisconsin State Journal:

Facing a recall and speaking over a loud and angry crowd outside the Assembly chamber, an unbowed Gov. Scott Walker delivered a State of the State address Wednesday that touted the successes of a difficult year and promised better days ahead.

“During the past year, we added thousands of new jobs,” Walker said. “And we balanced the state budget. We balanced it without raising taxes, without massive layoffs and without budget tricks.”

How much of that is true? Well, pretty much none of it.

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Did we add "thousands of new jobs?" Probably. But the impression Walkers obviously wants to leave you with is that unemployment is improving. The opposite is true. Sure, new positions are opening here and there, but the new jobs aren't keeping pace with the job losses. Wisconsin is the only state in the nation to suffer six consecutive months of net job losses. There are far fewer jobs than when Scott Walker was sworn in.

And this shouldn't be surprising. Walker's bought into a certain flavor of mumbo jumbo economics favored by rightwing politicians -- i.e., if you cut taxes for the top wage earners and businesses, companies will flock to your state as a tax haven. The problem is that these tax cuts have to be paid for, so you cut benefits for public workers, slash programs that take the weight off families, and generally undercut consumer demand at every turn. The resulting "Come to Wisconsin, where the taxes are low but the customers don't have any money" sales pitch is not as enticing to businesses as the aforementioned rightwing politicians seem to believe.

I'm going to take the next point out of order -- that Walker didn't raise taxes. This ties in with my previous point. You can say that Walker didn't raise taxes only if you accept Walker's definition of what taxes actually are. In my book, if you pay more taxes, you're taxes have gone up.

Not so with Scooter. He cut the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps low-income working families. Walker redefines the tax break as a "redistribution program... taking money from other taxpayers and giving it to individuals who have a limited tax liability." But the truth is that it's a refund on payroll taxes like Medicare and Social Security. The people receiving the credit actually did pay those taxes. No one's getting someone else's refund.

So did Walker increase taxes? If you take the plain, spinless fact that many Wisconsin families' taxes will go up, then yeah. When Al Franken had his radio show, he used to say, "Words mean things," and "increase" means "go up." Walker is just plain lying here. He raised taxes.

Did he balance the budget? Depends on who you ask. If you asked Gov. Walker last night, he'd say yes. But if you asked earlier in the week, he'd say no.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Gov. Scott Walker's administration has touted for months its efforts to balance the state budget, but now it also has acknowledged a significant way in which the budget isn't balanced.

To keep the possibility alive of making further cuts to state health programs, the Walker administration quietly certified to the federal government on Dec. 29 that the state had a deficit.

Federal law allows the state to drop tens of thousands of adults to save money on health care costs if the state can show it has a deficit. Walker has said he wants to cut health care spending in other ways, but hasn't ruled out dropping those 53,000 adults if the other methods aren't approved by the federal government.

While we're at it, I think both having and not having a deficit -- depending on what works out best for you at the moment -- qualifies as a "budget trick." That only leaves the "no layoffs" claim.

Yes, there were no "massive" layoffs (note that he couldn't claim no layoffs). But that was always a false choice. It was Walker who said -- in a typical Republican hostage-taking political move -- "pass my budget or the teachers get it." What he's really saying is that he didn't carry out a threat he made to get Democrats to come back from Illinois. His argument boils down to, "Yeah, I took 12,000 hostages, but I didn't have to shoot them. That makes me a hero!"

Not surprisingly, I disagree.

"[S]ome 200 protesters gathered in the Capitol rotunda during Walker’s remarks," WSJ reports. "They loudly sang anti-Walker 'solidarity' songs before his address. Once the speech started, the crowd grew louder, their chants bleeding into the chamber. A constant drumbeat could be heard throughout his 37-minute speech."

There's a metaphor there for truth bleeding into Walker's carefully crafted fiction. It's hard to lie to people about the things they're living, to get them to believe that their personal reality isn't real. Things are bad in Wisconsin and everyone knows it.

So that drumbeat keeps pounding, no matter how vigorously Walker works to convince us of it's silence.

-Wisco


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