This afternoon, at the Wisconsin State Capitol, I witnessed what at times appeared to be the greatest governor in the history of this or any other state showered with affection as he announced a bold new plan to rescue Wisconsin from the brink of otherwise certain economic ruin.
He was feted with more than a full minute of thunderous ovation, with whistles and hooting and cheers, as he entered, and again at the end of his 30-minute address. He received long rounds of applause and a few standing Os while he spoke. The balconies seemed to be filled almost entirely with people who love him, and who applauded him at every turn.
Gov. Scott Walker appeared statesmanlike and poised, a gracious and knowing leader who has the state's best interests at heart. God bless Scott Walker and God bless the United States of America. He is a man of the people, a patriot, a protector…
What's that you say? Oh, those people. The ones who sat sullen through the whole thing? Who never rose or applauded? You mean the Democrats.
Yes, the Assembly Dems never quite got in the spirit of things. In fact, all 14 of the ones who were elected to the Senate were absent, off somewhere on vacation in sunny Illinois, getting tans and sipping pina coladas. And the ones from the Assembly who were present were such party poopers.
Before the speech began, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca made some dispiriting remarks about how it was hard for many of his fellow Democrats even to attend, on account of how the Capitol was in lockdown -- in apparent violation of state law as well as a restraining order issued by a Dane County judge this morning.
Plus Barca was still complaining about "the chaos that erupted here last week," more than three days ago, when the Republicans ended debate on the governor's "budget repair bill" with a surprise quickie vote. "If we don't follow our rules, we cease to be a nation of laws."
Oh for Pete's sake, get over it, will ya? Everyone else has.
After the introductory cheers died down, Walker was introduced by Senate President Mike Ellis, who quipped, "He used to be the youngest governor, now he's the oldest!" Ha-ha. Good one.
Then Walker launched into his speech, outlining in refreshing candor and particular what changes he has in mind for the state. He…
What's that you say? He really didn't give much at all in the way of specifics? He mainly repeated lines and talking points he's been using day in and day out?
The governor said his budget "reduces all spending by $4.2 billion, or 6.7 percent, and decreases the structural deficit by 90 percent from $2.5 billion to $250 million the lowest structural deficit in recent history." That brought the Legislature or at least the part of it that is Republican to its feet. They apparently weren't the least bit bothered that Walker gave little indication where these cuts will be made. Why should this bother anyone else?
Walker repeated his "I'm an optimist" line, saying "I believe that after our budget repair bill passes, tempers will cool, and we will find a way to continue to work together to help grow our economy."
Yes, of course, when the Legislature finally delivers to Walker everything he wants, that's really going to smooth things over with the malcontents who have been making such a fuss.
As the governor delivered this line, the chants from the relatively small number of protesters who have been allowed to stay in the Capitol, as well as those from thousands more standing in the cold outside, could be heard loud and clear. "Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!" It was the same old familiar refrain that those gloomy Assembly Dems lobbed across the aisle in this very same room three days ago.
Yes, this chant -- along with "Kill the bill!" and "The people, united, will never be divided!" -- did intrude on the proceedings. But other than that, what a glorious day it was for Wisconsin's new governor! He said that, after years of fiscally reckless leadership by "Democrats and Republicans alike," the time had come for Wisconsin "to make the tough choices necessary to put our state back on the path to prosperity."
And by prosperity he meant delivering even more tax breaks to businesses. Walker said he would "eliminat[e] the capital gains tax for investors in Wisconsin companies" and "include tax relief for employers who hire more people to work in our state." Moreover, he'll "provide real tax relief for homeowners across the state by implementing property tax reform that locks in property tax levies at the local level."
It's common-sense approaches like this that Wisconsin needs to…
Not you again. What are you complaining about this time? Well yes, it does sound as though the governor may have just dropped another bomb and announced his intention to end the ability of local governments in Wisconsin to raise property taxes to meet needs in their communities. And, with the governor saying he plans to cut state spending to local government by "just over" $1.25 billion, this might be flexibility local governments will want to retain.
Oh ye of little faith! Were you not listening? The governor also said his budget repair bill, which guts the right of most public employees across the state to engage in collective bargaining, will deliver "the tools" local governments and school districts need to balance their budgets.
In other words, Walker is going to both slash state aids and block local governments and school boards from raising taxes. But there's no reason for alarm, because the governor is giving them the tools to fix this lickity-split -- by going after the benefits of teachers and local government employees, just as he has done.
Then these school districts and local governments can experience the same almost-universal support and popularity in their communities that Walker enjoys as governor. And won't that be just lovely for us all?