Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker faces a recall election on June 5. If the recall is successful, Walker will be only the third Governor to be recalled in United States history. A conservative Republican, Walker divided his State in two by fostering collective bargaining reform. In essence, he challenged the unions and created turmoil in the Wisconsin State Legislature. Some Democratic legislators left the State and went into hiding, in an attempt to prevent a quorum when they were called upon to vote on Walker’s initiatives.
Current polling suggests that Walker is in trouble. Public workers have received cuts in pensions and benefits as part of Walker’s conservative mission. The unions, however, claim that they were deprived of collective bargaining rights after employee contracts were ratified. In the long run, the Wisconsin struggle can have implications for New Jersey. In our State, public workers had their collective bargaining rights stripped away after employee contracts were ratified. In addition, retired workers had their pensions frozen and cost of living raises eliminated while the cost of living continues to rise every year.
Recent studies suggest that there will be an inordinate rise in poverty and homelessness among public retires within ten years. Without annual cost of living adjustments, many will lose their homes, will not be able to afford medication, and will find living in New Jersey impossible. As this population ages, more and more of them will become welfare recipients and wards of the State. Others will simply be forgotten by society. Quite simply, people who workers thirty or forty years, paid their taxes, and played by the rules, will face a lifestyle that was last seen during the great depression.
In Walker’s case, Wisconsin residents recognized that he was making working class citizens expendable in an effort to balance the budget. He was sacrificing the people in an effort to protect the State. However, he failed to recognize that the people are the State. Interestingly, the implications for New Jersey are unmistakable. Working class citizens, who worked throughout their lives, paid taxes, and played by the rules, are being made expendable by a Governor who is trying to create an environment where the wealthy will benefit, regardless of the state of the economy. The working class citizens, however, will continue to become poorer in the process.
Yes, the Wisconsin fiasco leaves unmistakable implications for New Jersey.
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a Disability Policy Specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law School.