Yes, it appears that Rachel Maddow and the Left - including me - may have made a mistake by arguing that Gov Scott Walker deliberately turned a Wisconsin Budget Surplus into a deficit by enabling massive tax cuts in order to gouge the public sector Unions.
At least that's what Politifact is saying.
It has taken hold with conviction: the idea that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ginned up a phony budget crisis to justify his bold bid to strip state employees of most bargaining rights and cut their benefits.
But this doesn't seem to be how it is.
Maddow and others making the claim all cite the same source for their information -- a Jan. 31, 2011 memo prepared by Robert Lang, the director of the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
It includes this line: "Our analysis indicates a general fund gross balance of $121.4 million and a net balance of $56.4 million."
We re-read the fiscal bureau memo, talked to Lang, consulted reporter Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel’s Madison Bureau, read various news accounts and examined the issue in detail.
Our conclusion: Maddow and the others are wrong.
The confusion, it appears, stems from a section in Lang’s memo that -- read on its own -- does project a $121 million surplus in the state’s general fund as of June 30, 2011.
But the remainder of the routine memo -- consider it the fine print -- outlines $258 million in unpaid bills or expected shortfalls in programs such as Medicaid services for the needy ($174 million alone), the public defender’s office and corrections. Additionally, the state owes Minnesota $58.7 million under a discontinued tax reciprocity deal.
The result, by our math and Lang’s, is the $137 million shortfall.
Politifact then goes on to argue that Walker did not create this deficit with his tax cuts since those cuts have not yet gone into effect and won't impact the budget until FY2012.
So although it is a fully understandable mistake, both of these argument are factually incorrect and should be dropped from the debate surrounding the Wisconsin Budget.
Update from Comments: There is another view that Politifact is the one who is wrong according to Brian Bueller via Huffpo.
In Wisconsin, budget season is two years long. The current budget window was opened on July 1, 2009, and will close on June 30 of this year. If for unexpected reason, the state finds itself faced with a severe deficit within a biennial window, the legislature must pass what's known a "budget repair bill" -- to close the gap with spending cuts or other emergency measures.
The state has not crossed that threshold.
The previous governor, Democrat Jim Doyle, passed a budget that left the state poised for a surplus this year. When Walker took office in January he chipped away at that surplus with three conservative tax expenditure bills, but not severely enough to trigger a budget repair bill. The current, small shortfall was "manufactured by Governor Walker's own insistence on making the deficit worse with the bills he passed in January," Kreitlow said. But Walker cited that shortfall to introduce a "budget repair bill" anyhow -- a fully elective move that includes his plan to end collective bargaining rights for state employees.
"The trigger had not been reached prior to Governor Walker adding to the previous year's deficit by passing bills that didn't create a single job," Kreitlow said.
The argument here seems to be that Walker didn't need to implement this "Budget Repair" Bill at all since necessary conditions had not yet been met - so yes is manufacturing this situation from whole cloth. I don't think Beuller's analysis recreates the budget "surplus" though even if we're looking at things biannually, since the original report still had a budget shortfall for next year as well as this one.
Budget-ening is Hard Work.
While Politifact rates the Maddow claim as "False", it should also be noted that it rate two key claims by Republicans in the debate as not just "False" -but "Pants on Fire".
First is the argument presented by Paul Ryan Gov Walkers actions have led "Riots" in Madison and brought "Cairo to Wisconson".
Appearing on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" program the morning of Feb. 17, 2011, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., defended Walker’s efforts to force public employees to pay more in pension and health care costs to solve the state’s budget deficit.
"It's not asking a lot," said Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and one of the stars of the new GOP House majority. "It's still about half of what private sector pensions do and health care packages do."
He added, referring to Walker, "So he's basically saying ‘I want you public workers to pay half of what our private sector counterparts’ and he's getting riots -- it's like Cairo has moved to Madison these days."
We all know quite well that the demonstrations in Madison have been absolutely and completely peaceful, and it should be re-emphasized that the protests in Cairo were also overwhelmingly peaceful - the only violence perpetrated were by Pro-Government Forces and Paid Thugs, not the Demonstrators.
The latest protest involved an estimated 70,000 people, including 2,000 Tea Partiers bused in by Koch Industries - and as far as all the reports there hasn't been a single violent incident or arrest.
We also talked to Paul Soglin, the former Madison mayor who led -- and was beaten -- during antiwar protests in the 1960s and ‘70s. Soglin, who has been part of countless other marches and protests, said he was amazed at the crowds.
Soglin used terms like "joy and enthusiasm" to describe the energy of the crowds and compared them to the civil rights protests in the 1960.
Asked about Ryan’s characterization of the events as riots, Soglin said: "It’s astounding that he would say that. It’s so spectacularly wrong."
Paul Ryan has a habit of being spectacularly wrong as does Gov Walker. On Friday Union leaders offered to accept cuts to their pensions and Health Care as long as the ability for the targeted unions (which remember, exclude those who supported Walker during the election such as Police and Firefighters) to collectively bargain would remain intact. Walker flatly rejected that offer showing that he's not truly serious about addressing the budget, he just wants to stick it to the unions that didn't support his election in a crass act of political payback. He also claimed that his proposal would leave "Collective Bargaining Intact".
any state, local government and public school employees -- including those represented by the largest state workers union -- have said they would be willing to pay more for pensions and health insurance, as called for in a budget-repair bill introduced by Walker.
Walker claimed during a radio interview that "Those (Collective Bargaining Rules Remain) fully remain intact. Civil service does not get altered by the modest changes we’re talking about here. Collective bargaining is fully intact. You’ve got merit hiring, you’ve got just cause for termination and for discipline. All those things remain."
But Walker is wrong here because Civil Service Protections are not the same thing as Collective Bargaining. Politifact consulted with Attorney Andrew Phillips on this issue.
Currently, state employees are covered by civil service, but most local government employees don’t have it and no public school employees do, Phillips said.
Phillips said civil service protections, among other things, specify employee rights to things such as vacation and overtime; prohibit termination for reasons other than just cause; and create procedures for employees to file grievances and to have those complaints heard.
What they don’t provide, he said, is any right for employees to bargain with their employers over those issues and others. The terms are set by the employer.
Basic Civil Service Protections would remain, but the ability to use collective bargaining for the home health care workers, University of Wisconsin System faculty and academic staff, and employees of University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics would be revoked.
And even in the same interview Walker admitted that he was taking away Collective Bargaining Rights.
Indeed, Walker also said in the interview with Sykes it was necessary to use his bill to strip collective bargaining rights because when it comes to money the state is broke. He added:
"What changes is the fact that no longer can our unions have a stranglehold -- not only on the state government but local government -- to force them to not alter benefit packages that are like a virus eating up our budget."
If that's true why are Police and Firefighters exempt from losing this ability. Would they still have a "stranglehold" on the budget even after this bill is passed? Why should they have that power but teachers can't?
Yet again - a Pants ON Fire Lie.
Rachel may have made an honest mistake, one that we should refrain from repeating as we argue against Wilson and his Bill, but that doesn't mean that most of what Wilson has presented isn't a complete steaming pile of feces for the Unions to swallow.
On another point I've seen Michelle Bachman complain that Obama should "apologize" because OFA has been involved in the Wisconsin Protest and they dared to used the "N" Word on some of their signs.
No, not That "N"-word. The other one. "Nazi'.
To that I have two responses.
Obama should apologize after the Tea Party apologizes for any of their "Obama the Muslim, Kenyan, Terrorist, Marxist, Socialist, Fascist, Nazi" signs, Andrew Brietbart apologizes to Shirley Sherrod for smearing and defaming her as a Racist, Glenn Beck apologizes for suggesting Obama and all Democrats are Nazi/Communists with a plan to take over the world - inspiring death threats against Nancy Pelosi, Sen Patty Murray and an attempted murder spree at the ACLU & Tides Foundation by Byron Williams - and Sarah Palin apologizes to Gabrielle Giffords, Tom Perriello and the other dozen Democrats who received death threats had their offices attacked and vandalized after they were Targeted by her Bullsye Map.
And 2) Since they brought up Hitler, just what would he think of this whole thing anyway (Taken from a key scene from "
Update: Being wrong every once in a while isn't a crime - it's part of being human - , but refusing to realize you're wrong and petulantly refusing to correct a mistake is dangerous.