Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Questioning Senator Liljenquist's Credibility

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).
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." 


  1. I don't think people realize how far Republican legislatures in the west have moved us toward balancing the backbone of our state budgets on the middle class on down while selling out to the biggest corporate bidder. Liljenquist has finally shown his true colors. Just another hack hiding behind a crisis.

  2. There's just to much power in government being yielded by people who aren't in government. The Koch Brothers are a prime example. It's sad that they could take an honest grass roots movement and turn them into pawn for their own agenda.

    Like I've always said, the tea party folks are angry. I get that, I am too, but their anger is just focused in the wrong direction. They think if they can get government out of their lives then they'll get their jobs and houses back. They think they'll have a shot at the 'American Dream,' get rich, be with the ones they love, and above all be happy. They fail to see that government is there to protect them, provide an environment in which they can be successful, give them the opportunity to do as they choose.

    It's heartbreaking really. It seems that the 'war on the middle class' is over, and we lost. What we're seeing now is the last gasp for air as our bought and paid for elected officials sell what leverage we have left and our President turns a blind eye...

  3. Jason:

    I disagree with your accusation of Liljenquist's non- "truth telling". Budgets are almost always referred to forward looking (unless you are trying to run, for example, the world’s largest economy on a CR because the previous party with control of the legislative process failed to do duty in passing a budget). Politifact ( put the numbers in perspective. I just can’t see in your accusation where Liljenquist is misleading the folks that the $3B projected shortfall is for the current Wisconsin FY and not the upcoming two FY that the legislature is preparing.

    While I agree with you that the Wisconsin budget is due to revenue shortfall, the remedy is not revenue expansion (taxation) which has a contractionary effect on economic stimulus. Like its citizenry does when revenue falls short, government must contract its own budgets and the cuts Walker is asking for are reasonable. What isn’t reasonable is for collective bargaining to hold up the WI budget for 18 months (past example), teachers to lie about being sick when they aren’t, and fleebagger politicians stimulating economies of competitor states.

  4. "competitor states"

    Your an idiot, As my favorite Socialist Ben Franklin once said before the revolutionary war, "We will all hang together, Or we will surely all hang separately".

    "the remedy is not revenue expansion (taxation)"

    Ahhh, more supply side economic nonsense, It is the wages of workers that fuels demand, take the wages of workers away and are in effect taking away the sales of businesses that service the needs and demands of those workers. Take away those businesses sales and you reduce their need for labor, reduce their need labor and you increase unemployment, increase unemployment and you decrease the buying power of works, Bit of a circular problem here no?

    Jobs are created by the effect of money changing hands, Business invest money where they can sell their goods and services, businesses invest money where they have access to a workforce, raw materials, and a means of production.

    You want to create jobs, DOUBLE the tax rate on upper incomes and spend every last dime of that money on infrastructure investment, direct one time investment subsidies(like every other nation on the freakin planet), and social programs that improve the upward mobility of the poor and middle classes.

    You want to cut government still, their are ways to do that in a economically responsible way, legalize Weed and empty from the prison system all those their on related charges, amnesty for undocumented works would save a lot of law enforcement and improve tax revenues at the same time, end tax carve outs for oil companies, coal companies, and other dirty industries.

    Ohhh and single payer health care would shrink the government as well funny enough while at the same time providing a huge economic boost.

  5. RD:

    Name calling aside, I have no problem with ending tax breaks for oil & coal, but let's have fair capitalism and end tax breaks for ethanol, wind, and green energy as well. Let all the producers compete fairly in the marketplace and let the invisible hand of the consumer find what will work best for them. Green electricity will still exist for those consumers willing to pay the higher price involved for producing those kilowatt hours. That is, of course, if environmentalists on the Left would permit windmill and solar farm construction.

    Amnesty would solve little in the short run and create a huge incentive for illegals to further break the law. Lawbreaking should be punished not rewarded.

    Still, returning to topic, my point specifically: how has Liljenquist failed to tell the truth according to Jason's quote? They do have a $3B deficit and they're broke.

  6. the 3 billion is an estimate of the shortfall they will have in next 2 year budget cycle starting in july, the bill being debated now is intended to close the gap in the current budget, which is nowhere near $3 billion in the red (less than 5% of that actually).

    so when pressed as to why the union busting measures are needed, walker, and now by proxy liljenquist point to the $3 billion number, realizing that they won't be able to sell the anti union portions any other way.

    so at best it's sneaky in a bad used car salesman kind of way, at worst it's switching numbers intentionally and hoping no one notices.

  7. No amnesty will solve little in the short run and will leave a huge under society of people unable to seek protection from law enforcement when they are wronged, cost $10's of billions of dollars in continued enforcement efforts.

    A mass national roundup, sorta gestapo style would deprive the nation of millions of farm workers, and consequently millions of people that participate in our economy purchasing goods and services from our businesses.

    I mean good heavens remove those 12million people and watch what happens to housing AGAIN, that is 12million fewer renters.

    To say nothing of the impending retirement boom, We are going to need more people anyway.

    We also have to consider that in 2009 their was well over half a million of acres of farm land that went unused due to shortages of farm workers.

    We can't look at this so simply, this is a complex issue.