Last years pension "reforms" and the current Medicaid changes in Utah have been almost exclusively synonymous with one State Senator's name: Sen. Dan Liljenquist.
Liljenquist has been referred to again and again as the "smartest guy in the room" when it comes to these two issues as they relate to reforms and the state budget, and there's been little reason not to give Liljenquist the benefit of the doubt on his level of expertise and sincerity. Until today. Liljenquist posts, at his own website, a defense and justification of what Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's proposals, hitting all the talking points, and as we've seen from the WI GOP, telling about half the truth.
Wisconsin knows that reality is not negotiable. For years, they – along with about 49 other states – have kicked the can down the road when it comes to dealing with soaring pension costs and exploding unfunded liabilities. This week, Governor Scott Walker, a conservative Republican, told Fox News Sunday: “For us, this is about balancing the budget. We’ve got a $3.6 billion budget deficit. We are broke. Just like nearly every other state across the country, we’re broke. It’s about time somebody stood up and told the truth.”Well, it appears Liljenquist won't be doing that "truth telling." Wisconsin doesn't have a $3 billion deficit this year, they have a $130 million shortfall for the remainder of this cycle, in an overall state budget of $14 billion (i.e. that's a crisis? Really?). Budget analysts agree that a $3 billion gap is on the way 'round 2011-13 in Wisconsin, but why? The state's legislative authority (think WI CBO) has an idea:
More than half of the lower estimate ($117.2 million) is due to the impact of Special Session Senate Bill 2 (health savings accounts), Assembly Bill 3 (tax deductions/credits for relocated businesses), and Assembly Bill 7 (tax exclusion for new employees).Or.
In English: The governor called a special session of the legislature and signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things). The new legislation was not offset, and it turned a surplus into a deficit. [See update below.] As Brian Beutler writes, "public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda."This is the height of irresponsible governance, and a strategy, it seems, endorsed by our own "authority" on state budget reforms? More from Liljenquist:
Schoolteachers from Madison, Wisconsin are some of the best paid teachers in the country, earning an average of $56,000 a year in salary, plus benefits totaling over $100,000.. Many public employees in Wisconsin can retire at age 55 with close to full pay, much earlier than the average private sector employee, while public sector unions are now the biggest contributor to political campaigns in the state.The unspoken charge? Wisconsin's budget "crisis" is caused by public employees' pensions, teacher's salaries, and the ability of public unions to negotiate on the behalf of public employees. It's the standard GOP meme, but also happens to be one big lie. Not just in Wisconsin but nationwide, state budget problems are a result of the recession, the housing crisis, and high unemployment. Not teachers, firefighters, policemen, or the clerks at the DMV, as Senator Liljenquist seems to believe himself.
[Worth noting, as well: pension promises by states were de facto contracts between workers and states, which states now want to withdraw. So states (like Utah) refuse to address their revenue models, continuously pin public worker pensions to the whims of the stock market, and when the markets fold in a recession, return to these workers and demand concessions? Wow, that's leadership!]
That aside, what Senator Liljenquist fails to point out in his post is that WI's public unions have agreed to every financial concession the Governor has asked for. They simply object to his proposed changes to union bargaining rights -- changes that would not change the budget situation one iota. Should Walker withdraw the bargaining rights changes, legislative Democrats would return, and public workers would accept the financial burden they are being asked to shoulder. So who is holding up the process then? Walker.
Sen. Liljenquist, for all of his oft-touted "expertise" here is either grossly misinformed or willing to intentionally grossly misinform the rest of us. Neither should be acceptable from a state senator, even more so from the person driving our own state "reforms."