Assembly of GOP Cowards

Wow.  After 60 plus hours of debate that seemed to have a few hours to go, the Wisconsin Assembly GOP passed Governor Walker's budget "repair" bill in what is -- more graciously than deserved -- being called a "surprise" vote.  TPM:

[...] at about 1 AM Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer (R) announced that he would hear a voice vote for a roll call on final passage. Immediately, the majority Republicans shouted their ayes, and the Democrats were booing, as they tried to be recognized to demand a separate motion to cut off debate.

Then Kramer called the vote. Within seconds, the digital vote system on the wall announced 51 ayes and 17 nays, and voting was suddenly closed. With a total of 96 members, that got to a majority for the bill but left 28 members who hadn't had a chance yet to vote.

The cowardly GOP Assembly, sans four Republicans voting against, couldn't pick up their brief cases and exit fast enough, as the house exploded with outraged Democrats and protestors shouting "Shame!" Watch (h/t Bob Brigham):

Not a done deal, the budget bill moves on to the Senate still missing 14 Democrats, but a clear sign that the Wisconsin GOP is willing to sink or swim with Walker and the du Pont Koch agenda.

Walker Isolated

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), today:

I'm not sending the state police after anybody. I'm not gonna divert a single trooper from their job of protection the Indiana public. I trust that people's consciences will bring them back to work. ... For reasons I've explained more than once I thought there was a better time and place to have this very important and legitimate issue raised.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), today:

My belief is as long as people know what they’re doing, collective bargaining is fine.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), tonight's "fireside":

The missing Senate Democrats must know that their failure to come to work will lead to dire consequences very soon.   Failure to act on this budget repair bill means (at least) 15 hundred state employees will be laid off before the end of June.  If there is no agreement by July 1st, another 5-6 thousand state workers -- as well as 5-6 thousand local government employees would be also laid off.

Tone.  Deaf.  Someone has been giving Walker some very bad PR advice.  The real fight at this point is whether Republicans in the legislature will do the walking back, letting Walker save face, or if they'll let him shoulder the over-reach alone.  Walker, legislative Republicans or Democrats, someone has to back down, and momentum is behind the state Democrats standing their ground.  And the longer the fight continues, the more discussion around Walker's proposal -- designed as a reactionary, quick, "crisis" driven move, not ready for prime time scrutiny -- the better the position for unions and Democratic lawmakers.

Public support for union bargaining rights nationwide is high, the unions have agreed to the financial concessions, and rally's from Colorado to New Jersey to Montana in support of Wisconsin workers have drawn headlines.  Walker's only hope here is that the toxicity the battle he and state Republicans have chosen doesn't hang with them for the next four years.

But here's hoping it does.

We don't need budget advice from Pawlenty

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was in Iowa this weekend to headline an event organized by Iowans for Tax Relief. The crowd cheered the future presidential candidate after Pawlenty blasted the Obama administration and proposed one bad idea after another.

Pawlenty's "economic bill of rights" includes requiring Congress to balance the budget every year. Freezing or reducing federal spending every time revenue drops is great if you like turning recessions into depressions, but basic economic facts won't stop Pawlenty from pandering to the "Party of Hoover" set. I wonder whether Pawlenty's proposed balanced budget amendment still includes "exceptions for war, natural disasters and other emergencies."

Pawlenty also wants line-item veto powers for the president. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that unconstitutional at the federal level, and it's unlikely Congress would ever approve a constitutional amendment on this matter.

In addition, Pawlenty favors extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Those tax cuts didn't prevent the most severe economic recession since World War II, but they did manage to massively increase our national debt and deficit while delivering most of the benefits to the top few percent of the population.

But wait, there's more to Pawlenty's wish list: "He also called for requiring a supermajority of Congress to raise taxes or the debt ceiling." Unfortunately, that would exacerbate our budget problems. When the Pew Center on the States examined state fiscal problems last year, a common feature of the states deemed "most like California" was a supermajority requirement for tax increases or budget decisions.

Speaking to the Iowans for Tax Relief crowd, Pawlenty bragged about getting Minnesota out of the top 10 states for taxes but glossed over other aspects of his record as governor. Iowa Republicans have hammered Democrats for supposedly "overspending," even though our state leaders have kept our budget balanced without depleting our state's reserve accounts. What would they say if they knew about Pawlenty's record?

During Pawlenty's first year as governor, the state drew down its reserves and relied too heavily on one-time revenue to address its budget problem. As a result, the state lost its Aaa bond rating from Moody's Investors Service; the state has yet to regain its Aaa rating from Moody's.

The 2009 report of the bi-partisan Minnesota Budget Trends Study Commission has recommended that the state build up its budget reserves and cash flow account in response to an increasingly unstable revenue outlook. All members of the Commission, including the five appointed by Governor Pawlenty, endorsed this recommendation.

Pawlenty and state legislators couldn't agree on an approach to balance the Minnesota budget. As a result, last year "Minnesota's [projected] budget gap was the largest in the nation on a per capita basis." Pawlenty can bash President Obama, but his state desperately needed the roughly $2.6 billion it received through the federal stimulus bill to help cover the shortfall. Even with the stimulus money, Minnesota was still billions of dollars short. So, in addition to some spending cuts, Pawlenty proposed "a bond issue that would be paid for by existing and forecast revenues from the tobacco settlement—a one-time fix disliked by some because it aimed to use long-term borrowing to pay for current state operations."

To be clear: Pawlenty wanted the state of Minnesota to borrow money to pay its bills. In contrast, Iowa's state borrowing program (I-JOBS) is funding capital investments in infrastructure. Last summer, Iowans for Tax Relief in effect ran the Republican campaign for a special election in Iowa House district 90. During that campaign, the Republican candidate made false and misleading claims about Iowa's state budget and borrowing. How ironic that the Iowans for Tax Relief crowd gave a standing ovation to a panderer with a much worse record of fiscal management.

Not only did Pawlenty want Minnesota to borrow money to pay its bills, he also decided that underfunding local governments and forcing them to draw down their own reserves was a good way to control spending for the 2010-2011 budget period. Yes, Pawlenty decided in 2009 that cutting aid to local governments by hundreds of millions of dollars was a good way to balance the state budget:

“Many [cities], if not all, have reserve funds, or rainy day funds, and they should use them,” Pawlenty said.

He also talked of the option cities have of raising property taxes to make up for any LGA [local government aid] cuts.

One of the Republican talking points against Iowa Governor Chet Culver is that his midyear budget cuts supposedly forced local governments to raise property taxes. Yet Pawlenty gets a free pass from his Iowa friends. Culver's across-the-board budget cut last October wasn't popular, but it did keep state government from overspending. In contrast, late last year Minnesota's cash flow was so poor that state officials considered short-term borrowing to meet budget obligations.

"It's a bad sign," said former state Finance Commissioner Peggy Ingison, now chief financial officer with Minneapolis public schools. "It signals you didn't have good fiscal discipline."

Minnesota has muddled through without borrowing money to pay bills so far, but prospects for later this year are dicey:

State budget officials updated lawmakers [April 12] on Minnesota's precarious cash-flow situation. They all but ruled out short-term borrowing for the 2010 budget year that ends June 30.

Budget director Jim Schowalter says "deep cash problems" loom for the 2011 fiscal year. Barring law changes, spending cuts and upticks in revenue, he says the state might have to take out short-term loans to meet its obligations.

The Minnesota Budget Bites blog takes a more detailed look at the state's "troublesome" picture for fiscal year 2011. BulliedPulpit posted a good rebuttal of "TPawnomics" at MN Progressive Project. The last thing our country needs is budget advice from Tim Pawlenty.

IA-Gov: Branstad robocalling Democrats

An alert Bleeding Heartland reader got a recorded phone call around dinnertime Monday, featuring former Republican Governor Terry Branstad.

Apparently there were a couple of questions about how Governor Chet Culver is doing and his handling of spending and the budget. Branstad's recorded voice touted his own record on economic policy.

The call also asked if the listener would support a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to between one man and one woman, and if the listener would vote for Branstad in the upcoming Republican primary.

According to my e-mail tipster, the call said it was paid for by the Branstad for Governor comittee, and gave a phone number as well as the address for Branstad's campaign website.

This particular household has two registered Democrats and no registered Republicans, and the homeowner has had the same phone number for more than 15 years. So I figured either the calling firm was using a bad list, or Branstad's campaign is reaching out to find Democrats who aren't happy with Culver.

Since I posted about this robocall at Bleeding Heartland, a bunch of other Iowa Democrats in households with no Republicans have reported receiving the same call, including State Representative Tyler Olson of Cedar Rapids. It seems clear that the target universe for this call was active Democratic voters.

If Branstad's campaign is trying to identify Democrats willing to cross over to vote for him in the Republican primary, it makes me wonder what his internal polling says about the GOP race. I've been assuming that Bob Vander Plaats has virtually no chance of overcoming Branstad's financial and institutional advantages during the primary, but if Marco Rubio can catch up to Charlie Crist in Florida, maybe Vander Plaats can win by running to Branstad's right.

Several polls have shown Branstad leading Culver by a substantial margin, although the latest Iowa poll for the Des Moines Register undercut Branstad's electability argument somewhat by showing Vander Plaats leading Culver as well. Perhaps Republican voters will come to believe they can beat Culver with the man favored by social conservative activists as opposed to Branstad, who was drafted by elite Republican donors.

There's more...

Braley, Michaud want "Buy American" provisions in jobs bill

Populist Caucus Chairman Bruce Braley (IA-01) and House Trade Working Group Chairman Mike Michaud (ME-02) wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer today, urging them to make sure the upcoming jobs bill contains a strong "Buy American" provision. From a press release Braley's office issued:

"Recently, as America has suffered the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, unemployment has risen and is now around 10 percent," the letter reads. "We believe that the shipment of American jobs overseas is a factor in this rising unemployment.  If we are going to pass a strong job creation bill then it only makes sense to include strong Buy American provisions, to further ensure that the jobs created as a result of this legislation are created within the United States.

"We have an obligation to create jobs in America. While some would argue that Buy American is nothing more than a trade protectionist label, it is clear that these provisions would equate to greater investment, and greater job-creation, within the U.S.  In addition, Buy American provisions are perfectly legal under current trade agreements and many other nations use similar mechanisms to protect their domestic manufacturers.  Therefore, we feel that it is entirely appropriate that this language be included in any upcoming job-creation measure, and we believe that this provision is essential to creating and retaining American jobs.

The stimulus bill Congress approved in February contained "Buy American" language despite a massive corporate lobbying effort.

Speaking of provisions likely to be included in the jobs bill, making homes more energy efficient would produce huge collateral benefits, as A Siegel explains at the Get Energy Smart Now blog. Money that homeowners and business owners save on utility bills is money they can spend on other goods and services.

In his speech today, President Obama also mentioned aid to state and local governments in his speech today. That would help state legislators close gaps in the budgets for fiscal year 2011, which begins on July 1 in most states.

Republicans in Iowa (and presumably elsewhere) keep complaining about Democrats using federal transfers to balance the state budget, but they ignore the reality that deep cuts in state budgets are themselves a drag on the economy. State employee layoffs have a ripple effect in the private sector. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently estimated that without additional federal fiscal relief, "states will have to take steps to eliminate deficits for state fiscal year 2011 that will likely take nearly a full percentage point off the Gross Domestic Product. That, in turn, could cost the economy 900,000 jobs next year."

There's more...

Diaries

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