It should be the sound of the other shoe dropping, but you’ll have to listen hard to Governor Scott Walker’s budget address because most media will miss most of it.
It’s a funny thing about covering budgets. Cutting spending garners a whole lot more attention than cutting taxes. How many Americans know, for example, that Governor Walker gave $140 million in tax breaks to corporations — right before he announced this fiscal year's deficit of $137 million?
The good people I met last week at the Wisconsin Budget Project call that a structural deficit. I’d go further. It’s not only structural; it’s structured – to bring about exactly this phony budget crisis.
As Scott Walker refuses to budge on his so-called budget repair bill, Wisconsin is bracing now for his actual budget. It's anticipated to cut almost a billion from education, literally scuttling public schools in heavily African-American cities like Milwaukee. And we already know Walker’s plans include shrinking Medicaid while privatizing public utilities, cutting off yet more routes for public revenue.
Tea Partiers convening in Phoenix this week reportedly sprang to their feet at the mention of Walker, but they’re only one side of this argument. According to the latest New York Times poll, Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions – as Walker would — by a margin of nearly two to one. Given a list of options to reduce the deficit, 40 percent said they would increase taxes; only 3 percent opt for cutting education.
What’s really playing out here isn’t a battle over numbers. It’s a debate over what government is for. Is it, as Walker and his backers' believe, for stripping profit of all responsibility to people, or as the American people seem to believe, for protecting the public welfare? Walker's staked out his position clearly. The good news out of his state is that the conflict, as “Fighting Bob” LaFollette said, has been joined by the people. It is wealth vs. the common weal. Capital or community. We have a choice.