When Wisconsin Republicans and their enablers yell about the need to cut the pay of average public employees to balance the state budget, they leave out some very inconvenient and illuminating facts.
Let's consider a few of those facts in comparative fashion and see what's really going on here. For the moment, let's limit our focus to Wisconsin school teachers, who represent a vital component in the continued development of the state's wealth and economic security. Let's compare those teachers economically and demographically to Wisconsin's millionaires:
Number of teachers in Wisconsin: 59,552
Number of millionaires in Wisconsin: 89,977
Yes, it's amazing, but true: Wisconsin by far has more millionaires than school teachers. Suffice to say, the two categories do not appreciably overlap.
Average Wisconsin teacher salary: $46,390 (US rank: 28th among all states)
Typical wage cut faced by a Wisconsin school teacher if Gov. Scott Walker's non- negotiable give-backs are enacted: $5,567 to 6,958 per year (based on net total compensation reduction caused by Walker's plan).
Continuing average income boost for millionaires in Wisconsin and elsewhere, thanks to the recent extension of 2001 Bush-era federal tax cuts: Approximately $100,000 per year.
So here's the bottom line no one on the red side of the political aisle will ever bother to acknowledge:
If the State of Wisconsin increased taxes on resident millionaires to take back just one-twentieth of the extra money they've been keeping in their pockets thanks to the Bush tax cuts, that would totally wipe out the need to slash teacher salaries under Walker's scheme. Totally.
Would Wisconsin millionaires walking around with an extra $100K in their pockets every year notice the loss of five or six grand apiece? Unlikely.
Will hard-working school teachers notice the loss of five or six grand from each of their pockets, thanks to Gov. Walker? Damn right they will.
Read that again, because it reflects our broader public policies quite well. It adds up to: No pain for millionaires, who already in many cases enjoy effective tax rates below those imposed on rank and file workers, including teachers; and, meanwhile, huge pain for teachers.
And none of the above even takes into account state tax cuts for businesses that Gov. Walker recently rammed through the state legislature, before Democratic state senators walked away lest he succeed in making further draconian moves against the state's public workers --whom, studies show, already learn less than their direct counterparts in the private sector.
Some day, Wisconsin may actually secure new businesses that may create new if not better jobs, but at this rate the state will also have a less educated and skilled workforce to take advantage.
If you like the idea of a society where a small class of wealthy elites drive the mass of workers to put in long hours for low pay, few workplace protections and rare benefits, welcome to Neo-Wisconsin, where the plan to accelerate the socioeconomic race to the bottom is proceeding, based on a largely illusionary fiscal "emergency." The fiscal magicians on the right are busy taking us back to the good old days of the '90s. That is: the 1890s.
What does it say about America's national values? Just this: Being wealthy makes you worthy of greater reward from your fellow citizens; however, being a public school teacher or any other kind of public worker (except maybe law enforcement, a category Gov. Walker's own measure exempts from his attention) means you're greedy and deserve less.
If you're a struggling private-sector worker whose pay has lagged in recent years, and who is rightfully angry about Wall Street greed, think hard upon these events. Some of those Wall Street backers of Walker and his ilk have managed to get some of you very angry at precisely the wrong people. Sure, we'd all like to be millionaires, but is it right to take significant dollars out of the pockets of people who teach your kids, and give those dollars and many more to rich folks who would, from the standpoint of economic utility find the additional income insignificant?
Is that fair? Is that just? Does that even make any kind of rational public policy sense?
This little exercise might be called a teachable moment, but you have not and will not hear it mentioned by Republicans, or for that matter many in the mainstream news media. Because, increasingly, the conventional wisdom is that being wealthy in America is a virtue; whereas being a teacher is a moral defect, and, moreover, that the two conditions are utterly unrelated.
ADDENDUM: One correspondent privately responds to this blog item, saying the argument is a little misleading in that data used to arrive at the 80,000 number consider total net worth, not annual income. Further, says the correspondent, about 5,000 taxpayers in Wisconsin make over a million annually, and there are 32,000 in the top income tax bracket annually (over $200,000).
I appreciate those additional details, but my thought experiment remains. Let's assess my imaginary 5 percent surtax on Bush tax cuts just for that 32,000. That's still a big heap of offset to what the relatively modest-income teachers are getting hit with under Walker, after two previous years in which they absorbed earlier, three-percent cuts.
If my imaginary surtax doesn't make up the entire difference, then raise it somewhat, or make the teachers absorb a salary hit that is not so onerous. The wealthy have all sorts of tax excuses, and some seem legitimate. A farmer whose assets are mostly in his or her land is not collecting all that Bush tax cut benefit, for instance. Other excuses (i.e., "but we create jobs with our tax cuts!") are not convincing.
What's uncontestable is that the Walker salary cuts will drive some good teachers from the profession, and stress others out by increasing class sizes and reducing other school resources. Not good for the teachers, or, just as important, our students.