Wisconsin governor swings budget axe

Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican notorious for his assaults on the rights of organized labor, is now enhancing his reputation among the ultra-right and the corporate sponsors of the Republican Party by comprising a budget that calls for historic cuts and smashes what is left of people’s programs.

Walker’s budget has already made national headlines for its proposed history-making $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin system, leaving the chancellor of the UW-Madison campus to conclude that she could close the schools of law, pharmacy, nursing, business and veterinary medicine and still not be able to absorb the proposed cuts without laying off employees. National commentators also took note of Walker’s attempt to pull funds from Wisconsin Public Radio and Television.

Less well known, however, is how Walker’s budget is crushing programs that are vital to those already at risk.

Reza Mehrparast described how his own family will suffer from the destruction of supported employment for the disabled, where Wisconsin’s Dane County has been a shining example to the rest of the nation. Walker’s proposal effectively moves this system toward a for-profit program. The employment support agencies are non-profit entities that help with job coaching and job retention. Walker’s policy here is similar to his approach to public education, where so-called charter schools are becoming a well funded direct competitor, but are of dubious value. Walker is now trying to move the employment system into a statewide program where he and his cronies can introduce for-profit agencies to ultimately take the place of the current agencies. As a result, supported employment for current disabled workers and the supported services will suffer.

Mr. Mehrparast said he was reminded of those Republicans like Ronald Reagan who used patriotic rhetoric such as describing the USA as a “shining city on a hill.” “That city is now corroded and tarnished,” Mehrparast said. He also hit ultra-right politicians for their hypocrisy: “Those who speak of ‘American exceptionalism’ are the same ones who are making America into a third-world country, where the poor sleep on the streets, and those suffering from emotional problems or mental illness are institutionalized for corporate profit or left to fend for themselves.”

A massive fight-back has already begun, and even some long-time Republican legislators are questioning the wisdom of the Walker budget. Walker is scrambling to fill a $2 billion hole left in the state’s coffers thanks to his ongoing tax cuts for the one percent. Walker claimed it was cuts such as these that would spur economic growth. Yet just the opposite occurred, as layoffs persist in Wisconsin’s traditional manufacturing and dairy industries. Just this month, Hampton Products, of Shell Lake, Wis., announced the layoff of 29 skilled workers, just the type Walker claimed the State was suffering from a shortage of.

Mehrparast said he fully understood what it took to win this fight. “The working class has one vital weapon at their disposal,” he said. “That weapon is unity, and we are in a fight for our lives.”

Photo: Scott Walker is now expanding his reputation amongst the ultra-right and calling for major cuts.  |  Jeffrey Phelps/AP