George Lightbourn -- The new abnormal | WisCommunity

George Lightbourn -- The new abnormal

From George Lightbourn, former Tommy Thompson functionary and now maximum leader of the wingnut (albeit officially nonpartisan) Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI), comes the flaming revelation that Scott Walker has established a "new normal" for Wisconsin:

For starters there will be no more deferring to the status quo. No longer will politicians automatically assume that more school spending will enhance student performance, that more regulation by itself makes our air and water cleaner... .

No, now state politicians are supposed to automatically assume that less school spending will enhance student performance -- but only in public schools. In private schools already receiving huge public tax dollars swiped from those public schools, the old normal will still apply, only more so thanks to Walkerism.

[img_assist|nid=61889|title=The Lightbourn Identity|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=110|height=137]Also from Lightbourn comes the implied logic that less regulation will make our air and water cleaner. Except, that is, when a business like the Bergstrom concern in Green Bay (cash supporters of Republican Enterprises, Inc.) needs a special exemption from DNR regulations in order to wipe out a wetlands for a new sales facility. Then, but only then, more government interference is called for. And as everyone knows (or so Lightbourn apparently would have us believe) eliminating wetlands for profit is, well, gosh-darn good for the environment. Maybe Mr. Bergstrom's last will and testament will helpfully include a bequest to the Wisconsin Wetlands Association. Well, we can dream, or pray.

Meanwhile, never mind that Wisconsin had some of the lowest business taxes of any state before Walker took charge. Avers Lightbourn: "Under Democratic leadership, Wisconsin was known to punish successful businesses via higher taxes and fees." Known in Republican talking points memos, maybe.

But the biggest misdirection in Lightbourn's Wisconsin State Journal column is that there was no "thrilling, nefarious back story to Walker's action" to all but gut public employee collective bargaining law. "The reality is that unionization and civil service provided expensive, duplicative employee protection that no longer makes economic sense."

Aside from the fact that numerous Republicans including Walker have now openly or tacitly admitted that the anti-union goal doesn't save tax dollars but is merely designed to eliminate an opposing political power, there's one other lie in Lightbourn's claim. Echoing Walker, Lightbourn advances the GOP meme that contractual workplace protections and grievance procedures are unnecessarily duplicative because the state's civil service system already affords all those protections.

So, more than a century of collective bargaining lasting decades was "duplicative" and uneconomic? Well, our system of multiple branches of government are likewise "duplicative" and cost more than, say, a dictatorship, but those branches are there to serve as a check and balance on undemocratic use of power. Maybe we should get rid of them, too, huh? Well, Walker does seem to be working on that.

It's true that some workplace labor disputes can be dealt with under civil service rules, but not all or even most of them, which is why unions worked hard over the decades to establish formal grievance mechanisms so individual workers weren't overwhelmed by state government bureaucracy and sheer, intimidating power. Besides that, though, even under contractual union grievance procedures, the state has for years dragged its feet on remedies, aided by a state employment relations commission that is increasingly deferential to governors (who appoint commissioners).

As is typical of bomb-dropping, non-transparent, under-the-radar, vote-by-night Walkerism, no public input including hearings will be necessary before changing these civil service rules. But if the committee -- in a moment of progressive and fair-minded lucidity -- makes a civil service rules change that seems too nice to employees, why, then, Walker also has already grabbed for himself the authority to change or override such rules.

Welcome to Wisconsin's nice, tidy, efficient, cost-saving new authoritarian regime. We'll take care of everything while you keep your nose to the grindstone. Efficiency is paramount under Walkerism. Democracy and equality? Not so much.

One mystifying clunker in Lightbourn's latest siren-song stylings: He thinks that Walkerism's "new normal" also means that politicians will no longer automatically assume "that incarcerating more criminals makes us safer." Thing is, under Walker's budget, that's exactly what Republicans just again did assume, killing an early release program enacted under Jim Doyle that was expected to save taxpayers a billion dollars by paroling prisoners judged ready to safely return to society. 

So much for what Lightbourn calls a state budget model in which "we recognize the scarcity of public dollars." Oh, really? Okay, let's stipulate that Walkerism imagines a scarcity of dollars for programs that serve average and in-need adults and kids, but what about scarcity of dollars for fat-cat special interests like road builders and telecommunications firms that spend millions to buy Republican votes? <cue sound of crickets>

Lightbourn is turning out to be the one-man, homegrown equivalent of the American Labor Exchange Council, that national Rovian/Koch group that has been whispering sweet policy nothings in the ears of conservative Wisconsin legislators and business-centric editorial boards like the one at the gullible State Journal. It's amazing that a guy so intellectually disorganized, dishonest and partisan is treated with such eminence, but that's the way of modern mainstream media. Hey, don't you know Lightbourn was once an important, conservative, political appointee? Enough said.

Lightbourn, you may recall, was the dude who foreshadowed Walker's anti-union bomb by suggesting in an earlier newspaper column that dialing down government contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement Fund would be wise public policy -- even while he was drawing a private paycheck and his own state pension. Unlike current state employees he won't have to pay higher contributions in exchange for that pension.

I wonder whether Lightbourn cares or has any clue why, as Walker's cuts to worker compensation drew near, so many addtional thousands of public employees took early retirement. Answer: so they could draw state pensions that were less than Lightbourn's, but more than they would get by continuing to work under the Walker policies that Lightbourn supports.

As a former state employee, a truly ethical Lightbourn would give up a noticeable percentage of his own state pension toward the state's budget shortfall -- like all those other state employees he has been dissing. That would be an act of personal responsibility.

Speaking of which: Lightbourn touts the work of his WPRI as advocating competitive free markets, limited government, private initiative and -- are you ready? -- personal responsibility. Beyond that mere rhetoric, though, Lightbournism, like its parent Walkerism, amounts almost entirely to this: I got mine. Screw you.

ADDENDUM: Before any conservative reader takes exception to this post's reference to Wisconsin corporate taxes actually being low, let's look back about five years (that would be, yes, the Doyle/Democratic Party era) and see what was actually going on. “Almost fifty thousand corporations filed tax returns with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue in 2005. Two out of three returns showed a bottom-line tax of zero dollars,” said the Institute for Wisconsin's Future in a 2007 report. But hey, here's Lightbourn again, mumbling about Wisconsin as a tax hell, one where businesses just aren't willing to invest because the rest of us aren't yet wearing oak barrels and living in old shoes. And Walker has now lowered those corporate taxes yet some more. Guess who picks up the slack? Not people like Lightbourn -- they're too busy creating another kind of hell in this state.


July 26, 2011 - 10:35am