Scott Walker’s America

Big news out of Wisconsin as the legislature prepares to ditch the budget repair bill and go straight to the collective bargaining at the heart of the past month’s controversy. But Scott Walker isn’t the only governor taking huge political risks–new Republican leaders in Florida and Pennsylvania are pushing dramatic budget cuts. Meanwhile, things are quiet in Illinois… too quiet?

 

Breaking news out of Wisconsin tonight: first the Republican-majority legislature tried to cut collective bargaining by embedding it in a budget repair bill, which couldn’t go through after Democrats left for Illinois. Now they’re cutting the budget repair from the collective bargaining changes; the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel explains how that could work… if it’s not a trick. This comes on the heels of Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald more or less admitting that union-breaking is the point.

It’s the latest twist in the battle between Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin unions that’s divided the state and pushed Walker’s poll numbers down. But Walker’s not alone.

In Florida, new governor Rick Scott survived a challenge within his own party to win the election, and he’s still fighting the state GOP, to say nothing of the Democrats. The leader of his education team is controversy magnet Michelle Rhee, whose stormy tenure running the DC schools was the big issue there in their mayoral election. And it’s Rhee, as the most public face of the current school reform movement, who’s focused nationwide attention on teachers’ unions. Scott’s budget proposal, as would be expected from a governor who ran to the right of his own party, is heavy on spending cuts and heavy on tax cuts.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, respected liberal columnist Will Bunch puts Gov. Tom Corbett on blast in the Philadelphia Daily News for his new budget proposal, both for the things it includes (substantial higher ed cuts) and the things it doesn’t (fracking taxes).

And then there’s Chris Christie. I think what I’m trying to say is this: Chris Christie is now the good cop. These are interesting times.

Except here in here in Illinois, where things are… sedate. (Except for Blagojevich, but you already knew that.) For instance: Senate leader John Cullerton suggested taxing retirement income. The reliably conservative Tribune editorial board said… that’s swell! As did the Sun-Times. And Greg Hinz.

Generally swell, at least, if not in the particulars. As other states are going through fiscal shock therapy, Illinois pols and pundits are being extremely cautious, so cautious that it’s notable when a few big players agree that talking about changing the tax code is good.

States are turning into fiscal laboratories as they address the budget crises in the wake of the recession–some going all in with pro-business policies, others playing it safe by borrowing, raising taxes, and scrutinizing the tax code. It’s a good time to be following other states’ political situations, not just because they’re more interesting but because there will be a lot to learn in the coming years.

 

Photograph: Sue Peacock (CC by 2.0)

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