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Posted on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 11:50 a.m.

Our Values: Is Wisconsin's budget crisis real?

By Wayne Baker

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing the controversial anti-union frenzy spreading across the country.

0309 ov Protester at Madison Wisconsin union rally.jpg

Protester in Madison, Wisconsin, in late February.

Photo courtesy of Read the Spirit

What is really going on in Wisconsin and the others states where conservative governors and legislatures want to exact concessions from unionized teachers, office workers, nurses and other state employees?

Yesterday, Wisconsin Republicans figured out a way to end the collective bargaining rights of the state’s public unions. They stripped this element out of the budget bill — and voted to approve it even though all Democratic representatives still are out of the state. So, did ending collective bargaining rights really have to do with reining in a budget deficit?

Republicans claim their goal is simply to pare budget deficits. Democrats say what their opponents really want is to end the collective bargaining rights of public unions. And liberal filmmaker and author Michael Moore says Wisconsin is really a battleground in class warfare. Moore traveled to Wisconsin over the weekend, and delivered a 30-minute speech in Madison.

“America is not broke,” Moore began. “Contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so that you’ll give up your pension, cut your wages and settle for the life your great-grandparents had, America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich. Today just 400 Americans have the same wealth as half of all Americans combined.”

It turns out that Wisconsin was never really in deep economic trouble, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a nonpartisan service agency for the Wisconsin legislature. In a recent memo to the Badger State’s legislators, the Bureau projects a budget surplus by the end of the 2010-2011 budget biennium.

An editorial in The Cap Times says: “To the extent that there is an imbalance — Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit — it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January.”

Gov. Walker claims that Wisconsin will soon have a $3.6 billion deficit. But, Wisconsin state legislator Mark Pocan, a Democrat, says this is just like the Balloon Boy: the hoax where two parents in Colorado released a large balloon in the air and said their young son was on it.

“We found out yesterday after our briefing with non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau,” says Pocan in his blog, “the $3.6 billion deficit in the next budget that Governor Walker and the media has been repeating is a MANUFACTURED CRISIS. The number is based on $3.9 billion in new spending requests by agencies, a 6.2% increase. I don’t think there is a member in the legislature that would vote for that. In fact, I asked Director Lang when was the last time we gave agencies exactly what they requested and was told he couldn’t think of one and he’s been here decades.”

What do you make of all this?
Is union busting the real goal of Wisconsin’s Republicans?

Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at


average joe

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

You asked- What do I make of all this??? I don't see any actual Facts in the article, just opinions, or factual errors. -Wisconsin did not remove all collective bargaining rights as the author suggests/implies. -Quoting Michael Moore & his fact-less opinions? A sociologist quoting Moore... -Was the Legislative fiscal bureau's budget projection before, or after Gov. Walker's budget is passed? -Quoting what a politician says in his blog? Sorry, nothing really "official" about a post in a blog. This article simply is trying to stir up more divisiveness among groups under the guise of a sociologist's study. The author is part of an"our values project"? My "values" reflect my Faith in God who wants all of us to be 100% honest with each other, not create or encourage divisiveness.