Is Wisconsin’s budget crisis just a ‘Balloon Boy’?

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?

No. 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?

Tell us what you think about the Wisconsin crisis—or similar disputes in other states right now.
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(Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)

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