HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN - merchants slogan: "We don't have it but we can get it for you."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The Republican (not my) governor is digging in his heels. Now in his latest "Fireside Chat" he threatens dire consequences. Since yesterday, I have received some interesting e mails from all over the state.

This first is from a well-spoken educator in Endeavor, Wisconsin:

To the Duly-Elected Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker (and anyone
else who gives a hoot):

It has only been a week, and I grow weary of the political struggle
that your Budget Repair Bill has caused. I am tired of watching the
news, though I have seen many of the faces of those I hold dear as they
march on the Capitol. I am tired of defending myself to those who
disagree with me, and even a bit tired of fist-bumping those who do. I
am tired of having to choose a side in this issue, when both sides make
a certain degree of sense. And so I offer you this desultory (aimless or
rambling) philippic (angry long-winded speech), because at the end of
the day I find that though this issue has been talked to death, there is
more that could be said. And so, without further ado, here are my points
and/or questions, in no particular order.

1. You can have my money, but. . .. Ask any number of my students, who
have heard me publicly proclaim that a proper solution to this fiscal
crisis is to raise taxes. I will pay them. I have the great good fortune
to live in a nation where opportunity is nearly limitless, and I am
willing to pay for the honor of calling myself an American.
Incidentally, Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the nation (and
a Democrat) agrees with me. Your proposed Budget Repair Bill will cost
me just under $3000 per year at my current salary, with the stated goal
of saving $30 million this year on the state budget. I say, take it. You
can have it. It will hurt me financially, but if it will balance the
budget of the state that has been my home since birth, take it with my
blessing. But if I may, before you do, I have some questions.

According to the 2009 estimate for the U.S. Census, 5,654,774 people
live in the state of Wisconsin. Of those, 23.2% are under the age of 18,
and presumably are not subject to much in the way of income tax. That
still leaves about 4,342,867 taxpayers in the state of Wisconsin. If you
wished to trim $30 million off of the budget, that works out to about
$6.91 per Wisconsin taxpayer. So I must ask: Is it fair that you ask
$3000 of me, but you fail to ask $6.91 of everyone? I know that times
are tough, but would it not be more equitable to ask that each taxpayer
in the state contribute an extra 13 cents a week?

Would you please, kindly, explain exactly how collective bargaining
is a fiscal issue? I fancy myself to be a fairly intelligent person. I
have heard it reported in the news that unless the collective bargaining
portion of this bill is passed, severe amounts of layoffs will occur in
the state. I have heard that figure given as 6,000 jobs. But then again,
you've reportedly said it was 10,000 jobs. But then again, it's been
reported to be as high as 12,000 jobs. Regardless of the figure, one
thing that hasn't been explained to my satisfaction is exactly how or
why allowing a union to bargain collectively will cost so much money or
so many jobs. Am I missing something? Isn't collective bargaining
essentially sitting in a room and discussing something, collectively? Is
there now a price tag on conversation? How much does the average
conversation cost? I feel your office has been eager to provide doomsday
scenarios regarding lost jobs, but less than willing to provide actual
insight as to why that is the case. I would welcome an explanation.

Why does your concern over collective bargaining, pensions, and
healthcare costs only extend to certain unions, but not all? Why do snow
plow drivers and child care providers and teachers and prison guards
find themselves in "bad" unions, but firefighters and state police and
local police find themselves in unions that do not need to be effected
by your bill? The left wing news organizations, of course, state that
this is because these are unions that supported your election bid, while
you seek to punish those unions that did not; I would welcome your
response to such a charge. You have stated that the state and local
police are too vital to the state to be affected. Can I ask how child
care, or prison guards, or nurses or teachers are not vital? Again, I
would welcome a response.

Though you are a state employee, I have seen no provision in your
bill to cut your own pension or healthcare costs. The governor's salary
in Wisconsin was about $137,000 per year, last I checked. By contrast, I
make about $38,000 per year. Somewhere in that extra $99,000 that you
make, are you sure you couldn't find some money to fund the state
recovery which you seem to hold so dear? As you have been duly elected
by the voters of Wisconsin, you will receive that salary as a pension
for the rest of your life. I don't mean to cut too deeply into your
lifestyle, but are you sure you couldn't live off $128,000 per year so
that you could have the same 7% salary reduction you are asking certain
other public employees to take?

2. Regarding teachers being overpaid and underworked. I don't really
have many questions in this regard, but I do have a couple of
statements. If you haven't already figured it out, I am a teacher, so
you may examine my statement for bias as you see fit. I admit I find it
somewhat suspect that teachers are mentioned so prominently in your
rhetoric; those protesting at the Capitol are indeed teachers. But they
are also students, and nurses, and prison guards, and plumbers, and
firefighters, and a variety of other professions. If you could go back
to "public sector employees," I would appreciate it. But as far as being
overpaid and underworked . . . I grant you, I have a week's vacation
around Christmas. I have a week off for Spring Break. I have about 10
weeks off for summer. With sick days and personal days and national
holidays and the like, I work about 8.5 months out of every year. So
perhaps I am underworked. But before you take that as a given, a couple
of points in my own defense.

The average full-time worker puts in 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per
year, with two weeks' vacation time. That makes for a grand total of
2000 hours per year. Part of the teachers' arguments regarding their
time is that no one sees how many hours they work at home to grade
papers, or create lesson plans, or things of that nature. I am in a rare
state, in that I am not one of those teachers. I work an hour from where
I live, and I like to keep my work at work. I, therefore, do not bring
work home with me, but rather stay at school, or come in early, so that
I can grade papers or create lesson plans while at school. So I am more
prepared than most to explain the hours it takes to do my job. I also
supervise an extra-curricular activity (as many teachers do), in that I
serve as the Drama Coach for my school. The school year, so far, has
lasted for 24 weeks. I have, in that time, averaged 78 hours per week
either going to school, being at school, or coming home from school. If
you remove my commute, of course, I still average 68 hours per week,
thus far. That means I have put in 1,632 hours of work time this year,
which works out to over 80% of what your average full time worker does
in a calendar year. If you include my commute, I'm over 90%. If ikeep
going at my current pace, I will work 2,720 hours this school year (or
3,120 hours if you include my commute). That means I work 136% to 156%
as much as your average hourly worker.

As to underpaid -- I'm not sure I am underpaid in general, though I
do believe I am underpaid in terms of the educational level expected to
do my job. I have two Bachelor's Degrees, and will be beginning work
toward my Master's this summer. By comparison, sir, you never completed
college, and yet, as previously stated, you outearn me by almost
$100,000 per year. Perhaps that is an argument that I made the wrong
career choice. But it is perhaps an argument that we need to discuss
whether you and others like you are overpaid, and not whether teachers

3. Regarding the notion that teachers that are protesting, or
legislators currently in Illinois, are hurting the state. Very briefly,
if I may:

Teachers have been accused of shirking their duties by protesting for
what they believe to be their rights instead of being in school. The
argument has been, of course, that no lessons have been taught when
classes aren't in session. I must submit that lessons in protest, in
exercise of the First Amendment right to peaceable assembly, in getting
involved as a citizen in political affairs, have been taught these past
few days. The fact that they haven't been taught in the classroom is
irrelevant. Ultimately a very strong duty of the school system is to
help students become citizens -- I think that has clearly happened this

As to the legislators, it seems to me as though they feel their
constituents deserve to have a length of time to examine the proposed
bill on its merits, not vote it straight up or down three days after it
was presented. As the current budget does not expire until June, this
seems to me like the only response left them in light of your decision
to fast-track the bill without discussion. Give them another option, and
perhaps they will come back. I can't say that I agree with their
decision, but I can say that I understand it.

4. Regarding the notion that protestors at the Capitol are
rabble-rousers and/or thugs. Such name-calling on the part of
conservatives in the state and the conservative media could be severely
curtailed if you would speak out against it. True, most of the people
protesting, if not all, are liberals. Historically, liberals have always
tended to think that they have far more support than they actually do.
They also (in my opinion) have a tendency to get extremely organized
about three months too late, if at all. So you can fault them for their
decision-making, but I would ask you to speak out against the notion of
thuggery. Again, very briefly:

So far, 12 arrests have been made. Estimates say there were about
25,000 people at the Capitol today, and about 20,000 yesterday. Let's be
conservative (mathematically) and say that 40,000 people protested over
two days. That would mean that officers arrested .0003% of all
protestors. By almost any definition, that is an extremely peaceful
demonstration, and of course you are aware that the U.S. Constitution
guarantees the right of peaceable assembly for a redress of grievances.
So in the main, these people have done nothing wrong.

5. If I may provide you with a sense of history. You work in the
largest and most magnificiently appointed state capitol in the nation,
built by Bob LaFollette (a Republican). You work in the same building
where Phil LaFollette (a Republican) helped guide Wisconsin out of the
Great Depression. You work in the same building where Gaylord Nelson (a
Democrat) was the first in the nation to offer rights to unions of state
employees, rights that you now seek to overturn. And you work in the
same building where Tommy Thompson (a Republican) provided more state
funding to education than any other governor before or since. Are your
current actions truly how you would choose to be remembered?

6. Finally, Governor, a note of thanks. Whatever the outcome of the
next several days, you deserve a certain degree of credit. As an
educator, I understand how difficult it can be to get young people
interested in politics. You have managed to do this in the space of one
week. A number of Wisconsin's youth support you. A number of them do
not. But whatever else can be said of you, you have them paying
attention, and thinking about voting, and walking around the Capitol,
and turning out to be involved. You have taught your own lessons this
week, Governor, and that has its own value.

Endeavor, Wisconsin

The next is an e mail forwarded to me by good friend Linda Gruen:

If you haven't been following the news (MSNBC only, probably) you probably haven't heard that the standard means of awarding contracts is to put the contract up for bidding and the lowest bid (saving the state money) is the one who gets the contract.

Walker has no intention of doing that:

while we discuss the merits of Scott Walker's budget repair bill, and the way he is paying off the Koch brothers for their politcal contributions, he is preparing a clear track for them to buy wisconsin power plants for pennies on the dollar, then hire cheap labor to work in those power plants; and while we chat about the benefits enjoyed by members of the public employees union, we are forgetting the reason the people of wisconsin voted for this guy.... his primary campaign promise was to create 250,000 job in the state.

it's clear this guy is real good at diverting our attention away from the real problem at hand.

"Hey! Look! Over there!

This morning I received the following message from AFL/CIO:

Thousands are rallying in Wisconsin and across the nation to oppose conservative governors who are attacking the collective bargaining rights of our civil servants. And the people in the streets are not just public sector union members.

Why? Why are so many who are not part of a union so committed to protecting the role of organized workers in our government and our economy?

1. Weak Economies Need More Demand: Our economy is struggling and our state budgets are distressed because increased unemployment and falling home prices have reduced economic demand. Weakening the ability of any workers to negotiate fair pay and secure retirements will only weaken demand further, hurting the overall economy.

2. Strong Standards Strengthen The Middle Class. When public sector workers can negotiate for fair pay, healthy workplaces and secure retirements, that puts pressure on private sector CEOs to do the same, or else they risk losing talent to the public sector. Making public sector work less inviting does nothing to make private sector jobs pay better. We need to raise the bar, not lower it.

3. Decent Government Pay Means Decent Government: Most everyone wants our federal, state and local governments to function effectively. That means being able to attract skilled, productive workers with fair pay, healthy workplaces and secure retirements, all of which will be lost if public workers can no longer bargain for their compensation packages.

4. Public Employees Are Not The Problem: Study after study shows the public employees do not receive extravagant compensation, and that the problems with state public pension systems are largely overblown. State budgets are reeling from an economic recession caused by reckless Wall Street speculators, top end tax cuts and corporate tax avoidance. The projected shortfalls in public retirement benefits derive mostly from skyrocketing health care costs thanks to private insurers, and poorly performing pension investments thanks to deregulated Wall Street firms.

Furthermore, civil servants in Wisconsin and elsewhere have repeatedly said they are willing to make concessions regarding pay and benefits. Unlike conservative corporate executives, they have proven their willingness to share the sacrifices. What we can't negotiate is their right to negotiate.

5. Scapegoating Lets The Culprits Get Away: Right-wing billionaires like the Koch brothers are pumping millions into a nationwide effort to break the public employee unions. Why would they bother? Because if they can get most people to blame public employees for the nation's economic ills, they won't hold irresponsible corporations accountable and force the ultra-rich to make any sacrifices, such as higher taxes and tougher regulations.

Now that you know why the assault on public employee unions affects us all, what can we do about it?

Sign The Petition: The AFL-CIO has a petition supporting fair pay and worker rights, to be delivered to all 50 state legislatures.

Attend A Rally: SEIU and Justice With Janitors both have compiled lists of rallies taking place all across the country this week.

Forward an Email: Share with your friends, neighbors and colleagues the reasons why we all should care about the attack on our civil servants.

This is a critical moment in our nation's history. Will we be a nation where workers can thrive, or where workers are nickel and dimed? Will we have a vibrant economy that works for all, or will we have a stagnant economy that serves the few?

Now's the time to stand up.


Bill Scher, Online Campaign Manager
Campaign for America's Future


Meanwhile, AP reports another move by our fearless leader:

The AP reports that paychecks are being withheld from Wisconsin senators that have fled the state. They need to be picked up in person. The rule change is aimed at forcing the absent senators to return to the state.

We need to organize, through the web, a means to raise contributions for the Wisconsin 14!

Another important read from Donna Wagner Backus:

Have you had a chance to read the budget repair bill? Well, you are not alone - most of the republicans haven't either. Here are some things that most people don't know. Please share with anyone and everyone you know - post on your facebook, blog it, send it to the Leader Telegram, email your senator or assembly person and ask about it - see if they can provide more information or explain it!! This is powerful stuff.

• Allows the State to take out an additional 200 million in loans, putting the State farther in debt. Page 30, Section 63

• Cuts off all State aid to municipalities. Page 135 – 136 Section 9211, Page 58, Section 148

• Cuts off all State aid to Public k- 12 Schools. “About 900 million dollars total”Page 135 – 136 Section 9211, page 58 Section 148 • Cuts off all State aid to University Wisconsin Schools “This will cause the tuition at UW's to go up 26% over the next two years” Page 135 – 136 Section 9211

• The state will lose 46 million in Federal Grants to Public Transit. “The federal government requires that public transit workers have collective bargaining.”Page 63 – 109 Sections 163- 314

• Allows the State to take 28 million from Employee Trust Fund, “This is the State Employee's Pension Fund, they will use the money to pay the States portion of State Employee's Medical and Pension contributions until 2013” Page 125, Section 9115

• In 2013 the State will no longer pay anything towards State Employee's Medical and Pension Fund, State Employee's will be required to pay the entire cost of Medical and Pension. “Roughly about $1500 per month for each State Employee.Page 58 Section 62.623

• Limits the right to collectively bargain for all employees who are not public safety employees (general employees) to the subject of base wages. Page 63 – 109 Sections 163- 314

And this!

WASHINGTON -- While Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has painted a dire picture of his state's pension obligations, Wisconsin's pension fund for public employees is among the nation's strongest, according to a report by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

The Pew report, issued last year, concluded that Wisconsin is a "national leader in managing its long-term liabilities for both pension and retiree health care." Walker has cited the fund's lack of sustainability as grounds for his plan to revoke collective bargaining rights for state employees, but that proposal has sparked outrage among state employees and drawn tens of thousands of protesters to the state's capitol.

"We're going to ask our state and local workers ... to pay a little bit more, to sacrifice, to help to balance this budget," Walker said in a Sunday interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace, adding that he would be forced to lay off 5,000 to 6,000 state employees if his budget plan was not approved, as well as a comparable number of local public employees.

But the Wisconsin pension fund is simply not in fiscal trouble. Its managers weren't burned by subprime mortgage assets or mortgage-backed securities as the housing bubble collapsed. The fund also relies on an automated dividend system, which pays out benefits in years the system is making gains while restricting payouts in years when it takes losses. And while the pension fund had a rough year during 2008 due to stock market losses, it remains robust, both in terms of fundamental financial stability and in comparison to other state pension programs.




Patty said...

Outstanding explanation of our
reasons to fight Gov. Walker's outrageous budget bill.

Lora Fleming said...

Yet another reminder of why you were such an awesome teacher ... very eloquent! I am sharing this with everyone I know!