The implications of June 5

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett – supposedly the more electable Democrat despite having lost two statewide races – won the Democratic gubernatorial recall primary Tuesday.

That gives Barrett four weeks to come up with a rationale for why voters should trust him to revitalize Wisconsin’s economy despite the fact that Milwaukee has the state’s worst jobless rate, 50% higher than the state’s as a whole, and why Milwaukee has had nearly all of the job losses for which Walker is being blamed.

That also gives Barrett four weeks to come up with a rationale for why voters should trust him to (supposedly) restore education to where it was before the evil Scott Walker became governor, despite the fact that Milwaukee Public Schools is one of the worst school systems in the entire country. (And perhaps he can use that time to come up with an explanation of why he failed to exert political courage and demand to be given authority over MPS, which was proposed in the 2009-11 state budget.)

That also gives Barrett four weeks to come up with an explanation for why he now opposes the Act 10 public employee collective bargaining reforms that he not only has used in the city, but that he advocated the Legislature rush through after Walker took office. I’m sure the unions that flushed $4 million down the toilet supporting Kathleen Falk will be very interested in his answer.

None of the aforementioned means Walker is guaranteed to win. Which brings to mind a question: What if Walker loses June 5? (Other than June 5 being the first day of the Recall Tom Barrett movement, that is.)

John Torinus blows the dust off his crystal ball:

So, summing up, Act 10, the very issue that animated the recall and almost two million signatures gathered has been muted in the campaign. What gives?

In the process, normal governance has been upended, citizens don’t know who’s in charge and we face the possibility of a regime change mid-stream in a four-year election cycle.

Should Walker be voted out, a whole new cabinet will be drafted and installed on short notice. The state’s budget-making process, which starts this fall for 2013-2015, will start from scratch. It will be pandemonium at worst, unsettling at best.

Citizens in Wisconsin have almost no idea on what laws and tax regimens they will be operating under for the next couple of years. Would a Democratic winner raise taxes on the well-off to balance the budget if he wins? They have hinted at that option. They have talked about restoring education cuts, without saying where the money will come from.

Will business and property taxes go back up? Hard to know.

One thing is certain. The turmoil and uncertainty don’t help the business climate and therefore job creation.

The truth is that if Barrett wins June 5, not much will change until after Nov. 6, when all the Assembly and even-numbered Senate seats are up for election. Republicans control the Assembly, and the Assembly is a dictatorship of the majority. Even if the Senate switches to Democratic control after the June 5 elections, Assembly majority leadership has no reason to accede to anything Barrett and Senate Democrats would want to do if they disagree with it. (Even to the point of losing their Assembly majority, since Republicans would be ready to chronicle the Democrats’ disasters for the 2014 election.) If there is a groundswell out there that taxes need to be raised in the state with the fourth-highest state and local taxes in the U.S., I appear to have missed it.

A Barrett win would be an absolute disaster for the state’s business climate for reasons unrelated to Barrett’s party. The fact that Wisconsin’s business climate rankings (that is, those rankings based on current statistics, not from the James Doyle disaster area) have gone from hideous to mediocre indicates those who make the decisions in businesses like what they’ve seen in the past year and a half – not because Walker is a Republican, but because big government is bad for business. What is bad for business, by the way, is bad for businesses’ employees. Democrats and unions can play the class envy card as often as they like, but the fact is that bosses in businesses decide who gets hired and fired, and what locations are opened or closed. And if bosses are making those decisions, you had better listen to them.

In a sense, a Barrett win might be appropriate because a win by one of the least politically courageous politicians in this state would mean the end of anything approximating political courage among at least governors, and probably legislators too. Whether or not you agree with what Walker did, you have to admit that Walker took huge political risks by getting the Act 10 reforms through the Legislature. If Walker loses, it’s hard to imagine Wisconsin with another governor, Republican or Democrat, doing anything remotely politically risky thereafter, because all of that governor’s advisors will point to what happened to Walker.

A Barrett win would also mean the end of anything remotely resembling fiscal responsibility in this state. The 2011-13 budget was legally, not factually (as in according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, which every unit of government except state government is required to use), balanced, but the budgets created by Doyle were neither, given, for instance, the Patients Compensation Fund raid that was declared illegal by the state Supreme Court, and the transportation fund raid that voters prohibited through referendum.

Which brings up another point you won’t hear Barrett (and probably not Walker either) bring up:

Would we not be better off with a referendum solely on Act 10, under which the singular and divisive issue of union powers could be decided? That’s how Ohio and Switzerland do it. It’s relatively easy to haul a new law in front of the voters in those two jurisdictions. They decide the divisive issue of the day without disrupting the whole flow of government.

Of note, when the collective bargaining issue went to referendum in Ohio last year, the citizens rejected Act 5, the Republican bill curtailing union powers, by decisive majority of 63%-37%.

The polls in Wisconsin suggest a referendum here would have a closer outcome.

In any case, the time may have come to consider more direct democracy in Wisconsin. Our recall process is busted. We need to move toward our constitution to a referendum process so the people can directly decide the big issues.

A major benefit of direct democracy would be to reverse the impact of the obscene amounts of money poured by both sides into our elections, especially this recall election.

Wouldn’t we rather have the citizenry decide major issues than bought-and-paid-for politicians?

You’ll never hear Barrett bring that up because an Act 10 vote would probably win. Public employee collective bargaining benefits only public employees, certainly not those whose taxes pay for benefits much better than most taxpayers get. About 15% of Wisconsin workers are employed by government, which means 85% are not. Public employees have a better deal, in fact, than their private-sector union brethren. (I wonder if that ever comes up in the Labor Day picnics.)

It’s interesting that the state of the Progressive Era reforms of primary elections, income taxes and, yes, recall of elected officials included citizen initiatives in other states, but not in Wisconsin. I would be 100% in favor of requiring voter approval of income and sales tax increases. I’m more likely to become the next governor of Wisconsin than voter approval of tax increases is likely to become law.

My mission today is to figure out how to stay away from TV and radio for the next four weeks.

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