Wisconsin Protests

Chris Cummins
Staff Writer

Wisconsin Protests

Protests seem to becoming a staple of world news in 2011. Egypt and Wisconsin, places once thought of as the most unlikely locations for any sort of populist movement, now find themselves with a population in uproar by unpopular government decisions, though the context of both situations is quite different. In Wisconsin, faced with a massive budget deficit and the unhappy prospect of a state becoming insolvent, the Republican led state legislature did as they had promised to do all election cycle, and attempt to right a governmental ship in dire straits due to fiscal imprudence.

Promising not only to cut the fat off the budget, but to disembowel it, newly installed Governor Scott Walker introduced a new budget proposal that would seek fiscal normalcy through a radical reversal of government spending, cutting state workers’ salaries and forcing them to contribute more financially to their benefits, and significantly reducing the collective bargaining rights of the unions. The real contention of the issue arises from the opinion that in seeking to save a state a from insolvency by trimming the fat off the state budget, State Republicans have instead come too close to the flesh.

Citing an overwhelming need for austerity, Walker proposed a new budget proposal that would reduce the current income of government workers by an average of 7%. This would essentially require workers to pay more for their benefits, pension, and health care. This drew the ire of unions, who have historically had a powerful sway in the state, due mainly to their large numbers.
However, the real anger over the new proposal is the proposal’s reduction of collective bargaining that would set unions in the state, established and powerful, back to a level found decades ago. Historically never a friend of unions, Walker would have been quite at ease with the fallout and protests, except that State Democrats, a minority in a GOP dominated legislature, fled the State capital in order to avoid a vote by depriving the governor of a quorum, which, despite the Republican majority, is needed to order a vote.

As of now, the protests have continued unabated, with the numbers of protesters even swelling despite the pouring rain abundant in the Badger State, and prominent celebrities, such as several Green Bay Packers, affirming their support for the protesters. The battle over the budget has become another symbol of the ongoing battle of the budget between Tea Party backed, fiscally conservative candidates and their liberal counterparts.

It’s also become a difficult moment for President Obama, as the nascent pro-business image he has put forth, as well as his repeated message detailing the need for fixing the deficit, finds itself at odds with the calls from union organizers and grass roots Democratic organizers for him to show his support for a historically Democratic demographic and bedrock of support for the party. Even more pressing is the fact that, if a vote is not called by Friday in order to pass a resolution on the state’s new budget, over $165 million dollars will be added to an already yawning budget deficit. Wisconsin, in an unlikely turn of events, has become an augur for the nation, and only time will tell where the Badger State falls.