Month: <span>May 2015</span>

Campaigning against educators and the middle class


It is outrageous to campaign for any public office, especially for president of the United States, on a record of attacking teachers, health care workers and other public employees who provide essential, everyday services to millions of people, often at subpar wages.

Yet that is exactly what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is doing as he travels the country, bragging about his record of attacking unions and cutting taxes in his home state. When Walker brags about attacking unions, he actually is bragging about attacking teachers, bus drivers, school nurses and thousands of other employees caught in his rampage through Wisconsin state government a few years ago.

(Remember, he also compared teachers, nurses and other public employees to “terrorists” when he claimed, not long ago, that he could handle the Islamic State because he had taken on union protesters in Wisconsin. Were it not for the seriousness of international terrorism, some national political correspondents may still be laughing at Walker over that one.)

Walker hasn’t officially announced for president yet, but he likely will, joining several other presidential wannabes whose main interest in government seems to be enacting policies to further enrich the rich at the expense of everyone else.

In truth, Walker’s policies in Wisconsin were largely a disaster, especially for the middle class, and things are threatening to get worse because Walker’s previous spending cuts haven’t produced the rosy budget picture that the governor promised.

So, while Walker is off on the presidential campaign trail, he has asked his Republican allies in the Legislature in Wisconsin to cut some more, including further reductions in public schools, universities and many other programs, according to the article linked below in the Washington Post.

But, in his topsy-turvy sense of priorities, Walker wants to keep a state tax break for manufacturers and farms and issue $220 million in bonds for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise.

Although Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is below the national average, its rate of private-sector job growth is among the worst in the country, and wages have remained stagnant, the Post reports. The article also cites a recent study by the Pew CharitableTrusts, finding that Wisconsin’s middle class – households making between $34,500 and $103,000 a year – has shrunk at a rate faster than any other state.

That latter finding may be the most damning result of Walker’s legacy to date. The middle class – the working class — used to be considered the heart and soul of America, before the Scott Walkers of this country began to do their number on it.



Courting business leaders, ignoring educators


As most of us already know, there is little, if any, barrier between big money and state government in Texas, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has blurred the distinction even more, if that is possible. Patrick has regular, private, invitation-only calls with handpicked business leaders and donors, apparently to make sure he isn’t overlooking anything his political supporters and benefactors may want.

“Why wouldn’t I want to learn from and communicate with the job creators? Why would we want to pass legislation that might impact our economy in a negative way?” he asked, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Business experts are just that, business experts, and the first interest of most of them is the interest of their own companies and industries, which may or may not represent the best interests of consumers or the state as a whole.

Yes, business people are job creators, but there wouldn’t be many qualified people to fill decent jobs without educators. And, the lieutenant governor also claims to want to improve education, although he has made a career of undermining the public schools at every opportunity, including a seemingly endless stream of bad school privatization legislation this session.

If Patrick really wants to improve education, why doesn’t he initiate some phone calls with educators? I mean real educators – teachers, principals, superintendents — not the voucher advocates and other self-styled “experts” whose only interest in the public schools is profiting from their tax dollars.

Why wouldn’t he, as he put it, want to “learn from and communicate” with the real education experts?

The truth is that he doesn’t. And that’s a shame.



The Wall Street Journal lies; attacks teachers and workers


Ever since its purchase by a right-wing mega-millionaire with a history of being challenged by basic journalistic ethics, the Wall Street Journal has sometimes refused to let facts interfere with an editorial policy strongly tilted against the working class, the backbone of America, and it has done so again.

This time, school teachers and other public employees in Texas are in the crosshairs of a WSJ editorial that ran over the weekend, deliberately lying to the public about a bill that would end for most public employees in Texas the long-time practice of having their union or professional association dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.

In its opening paragraph, the editorial implies the automatic deduction system is a “corrupt bargain between government and politicians,” when, in truth, it is nothing of the kind. It simply is a voluntary, convenient and secure way for teachers and other government workers to handle their membership dues.  For example, it provides more security against identify theft than an automatic funds transfer from a bank account.

In the vast majority of cases, the act of withholding membership dues doesn’t cost the government anything, and, if it does, existing law already provides a way for organizations to reimburse taxpayers. Consequently, no governing board, to my knowledge, has asked for the practice to be banned. In fact, the superintendent of Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, has been among many individuals and groups speaking out against the proposed change.

The Senate last week, nevertheless, approved Senate Bill 1968, which would ban automatic dues deductions for most public employees but only for selected organizations. Now, the Wall Street Journal is trying to put pressure on Speaker Joe Straus and the House, where similar legislation, so far, has gone nowhere.

Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel are exempted from the bill. So they could continue to enjoy the convenience of automatic dues deductions while school and other municipal employees could not.  Various charitable organizations, including some tax-exempt groups that actively engage in politics, could also continue to have their dues automatically deducted.

Unions are the primary target of this legislation, which not only is unfair but also ludicrous in Texas, which has been a right-to-work state since 1947 and will remain one for a long time to come.

Here are a couple of other big lies from backers of the legislation.

CLAIM: Union membership dues are primarily used to finance political activity.

FACT: In truth, membership dues are given voluntarily and may not be used for political activities or campaign contributions. They are completely separate from the voluntarily contributions some union members make to a political action committee for political activities. And, some of the charitable organizations that would be untouched by the bill are heavily involved in right-wing, anti-consumer, anti-worker politics.

CLAIM: Unions work to elect only Democrats to public office.

FACT: In truth, the Texas State Teachers Association’s political action committee is bipartisan. It supports both Democrats and Republicans in state races and nonpartisan candidates in local school board elections. The TSTA PAC doesn’t evaluate candidates on their partisan affiliation, only on their commitment to public schools and students. And the PAC is supported by voluntary contributions from TSTA members, which are separate and in addition to membership dues.

CLAIM:  Unions “automatically dun workers for political causes those workers don’t support.”

FACT: In Texas, a right-to-work state, no one is “automatically dunned” or coerced by a union. Paying dues to an organization is completely voluntary.

The Wall Street Journal article is aimed at Texas, but the world it describes has precious little to do with the Lone Star State. It has everything to do, though, with the efforts of self-styled “free market” advocates to disrespect workers, including the people who teach their children, get them to school and back safely every day and ensure a safe and healthy learning environment.

What is at play here is a scorched-earth effort by the privileged one-percenters and others of their ilk to destroy the basic employment rights of workers in Texas and the United States, a selfish, greedy and short-sighted attitude that threatens to undermine the very social fabric holding our country together.




When a fairy tale becomes a nightmare for education


The governor and the legislative majority cut taxes, promising that everyone would prosper and live happily ever after. And, they were considered heroes in the eyes of constituents who believe the best government is the least possible government. Sound familiar?

What I just described actually happened in Kansas three years ago, and, despite the fairy tale promises, the experience didn’t have a happy ending, especially for educators and their students. Nevertheless, a similar scenario is developing now in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott and other leaders also are demanding tax cuts. Sooner or later, the House and Senate majorities will end their political dueling and agree on a tax reduction package that will reduce available state revenue by $4 billion to $5 billion in the upcoming two-year budget cycle. In the future, the loss of state revenue could total billions more, making it difficult to provide essential services, such as quality education, to a growing population.

And, if any Texas leaders know how the Kansas tax-cutting experience played out, they are ignoring it.

In 2012, Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and a Republican-dominated Legislature enacted sweeping tax cuts, allegedly to spur economic growth and increase prosperity. But they didn’t know what they were talking about – or didn’t care. Now, three years later, Kansas is in the middle of a budgetary nightmare.

With post-cut tax receipts repeatedly coming in lower than expectations, Kansas is facing a $422 million revenue shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1, according to the Washington Post column linked below.

Public schools haven’t taken the only budgetary hits because there has been more than enough misery to spread around among a host of important services. But state government in Kansas, as in Texas, has a history – and a court decision to prove it – of under-funding its public schools. And, the tax cuts worsened the problem.

Consequently, Kansas schools have been forced to cut back on a number of important programs, and at least eight districts are ending the school year early because they have run out of money. At least one district is shutting down two weeks early, and the budgetary misery likely will continue next school year.

As columnist Catherine Rampell wrote, educators “must continue to find new and innovative ways to do less with less.”

That won’t happen in Texas, you say? A few years ago, Gov. Brownback and his allies said it wouldn’t happen in Kansas either. The truth is no one knows what the long-term effect of tax cuts in Texas will be. We have a strong economy, but it is showing signs of cooling, partly because of weaker oil prices and cuts in energy production. And, remember, many Texas school districts are still recovering from $5.4 billion in education cuts imposed by the legislative majority four years ago.

Elections have consequences. In Kansas and soon in Texas, those consequences include tax cuts.

Tax cuts can have consequences too, and not necessarily what tax-cutters may promise or expect.