National conservatives and Wisconsin Republicans have settled on a new talking point that they’re flogging relentlessly in the recall wars: Scott Walker’s proposal to bust public employee unions is already a success. Mere days after it became law.
In making this claim, it seems that Walker and conservative pundits are singing from the same sheet music. Walker made it on Face the Nation this Sunday; Rush Limbaugh has pushed it on his show; and Wisconsin GOPers facing recall campaigns are hammering away at it on the stump and in local media.
The notion that they’re pushing, however, is laughably bogus.
The basic claim focuses on a single school district out of hundreds — the Kaukauna School District, near Appleton, Wisconsin. After Scott Walker’s law went into effect last week, school officials announced new policies that they say will turn a deficit of $400,000 into a surplus of $1.5 million. Conservatives are claiming that this is because of Walker’s reforms to collective bargaining rules — the savings are the result, they say, of the fact that teachers and other school staff will pay more in health care costs and pension costs.
On Face the Nation this weekend, Walker amplified this claim, pointing to this specific school district as proof that his reforms had given schools and local governments the “tools” they need to turn their budgets around. “Those are the things we promised,” Walker exulted.
Limbaugh has also pushed this claim hard, arguing on his show recently that this proved Walker’s critics wrong. “Remember all of those fights, all of those protests, and all the bickering, and all the caterwauling, and all the complaining from these public employees in Wisconsin about taking their collective bargaining rights away?” Rush said. “That law goes into effect and immediately turns a $400,000 budget deficit into a one-and-a-half-million-dollar surplus in one school district.”
But here’s the thing: The collective bargaining ban, in and of itself, was not responsible for achieving these savings and this surplus. As the Appleton Post Crescent reports, the teachers union had already offered up financial concessions that would have produced almost identical savings and an almost identical surplus.
What’s more, the use of this one district to declare Walker’s policies a success is almost comical in its cherry-picking. There are 424 school districts in Wisconsin, and as the AP recently noted, Walker’s policies mean draconian budget cuts to 410 of them, with labor officials and school districts predicting increased class sizes and layoffs.
Walker’s premature declaration of victory — and the right wing echo chamber’s flacking of it — could look awfully silly when the full bill for his policies really comes due. And the notion that this one school district’s fiscal success is in any way a referendum on the most controversial aspect of Walker’s union busting proposal is laughable. This fight has never been about public employees’ unwillingness to make fiscal concessions — and always about stripping them of their rights.