How Do You Destroy America? By Bankrupting the 50 States and Their Counties"The existence of public sector collective bargaining makes public employees 'super citizens' and relegates the rest of the public to second class status."- David Y. Denholm, Beyond Public Sector Unionism: A Better Way, Public Service Research Foundation, 1994
"The collective bargaining laws have given enormous political power to the public sector unions. No matter what the real intent of these laws, by any objective standard they are not in the public interest. They represent an expression of the selfish self-interest of public sector union organizers and, indirectly, the interest of the politicians who enact them in order to curry favor with the union's political operatives." - David Y. Denholm, Beyond Public Sector Unionism: A Better Way, Public Service Research Foundation, 1994
February 22, 2011
AP – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker warned Tuesday that state employees could start receiving layoff notices as early as next week if a bill eliminating most collective bargaining power isn't passed soon.
Walker said in a statement to The Associated Press that the layoffs wouldn't take effect immediately. He didn't say which workers would be targeted but he has repeatedly warned that up to 1,500 workers could lose their jobs by July if his proposal isn't passed.
"Hopefully we don't get to that point," Walker said.Senate Democrats walked out last week rather than vote on Walker's bill that would force public workers to pay more for their benefits. He also wants to eliminate collective bargaining for nearly all workers except concerning salary increases that aren't greater than the Consumer Price Index.
The proposal, designed to help Wisconsin plug a projected $3.6 billion budget hole, has led to eight straight days of massive protests that grew as large as 68,000 people on Saturday.
Security was tight in the Capitol on Tuesday morning as both the Senate and Assembly were scheduled to be in session. The Republican-controlled Assembly planned to start debate and possibly vote on the bill later in the day, although Democrats planned to push for adoption of more than 100 amendments.
The Senate has been stymied in its ability to vote on the bill after the 14 Democrats walked out on Thursday, making it impossible for the remaining Republicans to take up the measure. Walker and Republican leaders have repeatedly called on the Democrats, who escaped to Illinois, to return and get back to work.
Democrats have said they won't come back until Walker is willing to negotiate.
Public employees have said they would agree to concessions Walker wants that would amount to an 8 percent pay cut on average, but they want to retain their collective bargaining rights. One Republican senator also has floated an alternative that would make the elimination of those rights temporary.
Walker has repeatedly rejected both offers, saying local governments and school districts can't be hamstrung by the often lengthy collective bargaining process. He says they need to have more flexibility to deal with up to $1 billion in cuts he will propose in his budget next week and into the future.
It's a high-stakes game of political chicken that has riveted the nation and led to ongoing public protests. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are budging: Walker says he won't negotiate, and the 14 missing Senate Democrats say they won't return until he does.
"We'd love to come back today," said Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of the 14 who went to Illinois. "We could be up there this afternoon and pass this if he would agree to removing the language that has absolutely nothing to do with balancing the budget."Republicans planned to forge ahead with other business Tuesday, including a resolution honoring the Green Bay Packers for winning the Super Bowl and a bill extending tax breaks to dairy farmers. Those bills have bipartisan support, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has tried to put pressure on Democrats by threatening to take up more controversial matters, such as a GOP-backed proposal requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.
"You have shut down the people's government, and that is not acceptable," Fitzgerald said to Democrats during a brief meeting Monday setting the Senate's agenda for Tuesday.Two Democratic senators participated in the meeting by phone.
Democrats counter that Walker could compromise and put an end to the stalemate.
"It's right in front of the governor," Miller said. "He just needs to pick it up and allow us to move on. ... This is a no-brainer."As Walker spoke under heavy guard at a late Monday afternoon news conference inside his conference room, thousands of protesters could be heard through the doors blowing whistles, banging on drums and chanting "Scott Walker has got to go!"
"This guy is power drunk and we're here to sober him up," said Bert Zipperer, 54, a counselor at a Madison middle school who was among the protesters. "He wants to do it unilaterally without any compromise. He wants to be a national conservative hero and he thinks he can get away with this."Walker's plan would allow unions representing most public employees to negotiate only for wage increases, not benefits or working conditions. Any wage increase above the Consumer Price Index would have to be approved in a referendum. Unions would face a vote of membership every year to stay formed, and workers could opt out of paying dues.
The emergency plan is meant to address this year's $137 million shortfall and start dealing with the $3.6 billion hole expected by mid-2013. The benefits concessions would amount to $30 million this year, but the largest savings Walker proposed comes from refinancing debt to save $165 million.
That portion must be done by Friday for bonds to be refinanced in time to realize the savings by June 30, the end of this fiscal year.
Walker said not passing the bill by Friday would make even deeper cuts necessary and possibly result in laying off 1,500 workers over the next four months.
AP – Nestled within America's once-thriving coal country, 87-year-old Ed Shepard laments a prosperous era gone by, when shoppers lined the streets and government lent a helping hand. Now, here as in one-fourth of all U.S. counties, West Virginia's graying residents are slowly dying off.
Hit by an aging population and a poor economy, a near-record number of U.S. counties are experiencing more deaths than births in their communities, a phenomenon demographers call "natural decrease."
Years in the making, the problem is spreading amid a prolonged job slump and a push by Republicans in Congress to downsize government and federal spending.
Local businesses in Welch began to shutter after U.S. Steel departed McDowell County, which sits near Interstate 77, once referred to as the "Hillbilly Highway" because it promised a way to jobs in the South. Young adults who manage to attend college — the high-school dropout rate is 28 percent, compared with about 8 percent nationwide — can't wait to leave. For some reason, the fish in nearby Elkhorn Creek left too.
"There's no reason for you to come to Welch," says Shepard, wearing a Union 76 cap at a makeshift auto shop he still runs after six decades. "This is nothing but a damn ghost town in a welfare county."In all, roughly 760 of the nation's 3,142 counties are fading away, stretching from industrial areas near Pittsburgh and Cleveland to the vineyards outside San Francisco to the rural areas of east Texas and the Great Plains. Once-booming housing areas, such as retirement communities in Florida, have not been immune.
West Virginia was the first to experience natural decrease statewide over the last decade, with Maine, Pennsylvania and Vermont close to following suit, according to the latest census figures. As a nation, the U.S. population grew by just 9.7 percent since 2000, the lowest decennial rate since the Great Depression.
"Natural decrease is an important but not widely appreciated demographic phenomenon that is reshaping our communities in both rural and urban cores of large metro areas," said Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor and demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute who analyzed the census numbers.Johnson said common threads among the dying counties are older whites who are no longer having children, and an exodus of young adults who find little promise in the region and seek jobs elsewhere. The places also have fewer Hispanic immigrants, who on average are younger and tend to have more children than other groups.
"The downturn in the U.S. economy is only exacerbating the problem," said Johnson, whose research paper is being published next month in the journal Rural Sociology. "In some cases, the only thing that can pull an area out is an influx of young Hispanic immigrants or new economic development."The predicament is starkest in places like Welch. In the 1960s, McDowell County ranked tops in the U.S. in coal production. Even as it began to stumble, President John F. Kennedy took notice and pushed federal aid to the region. McDowell residents were the first to get federal food stamps when they were rolled out in the Kennedy administration.
After U.S. Steel sold the last of its mining operations by 2003, folks in southern West Virginia began counting on new highway projects to prop up the long-struggling area.
"One of the promises we're waiting to come is the highway," said Carolyn Falin, an assistant schools superintendent in McDowell County.From the east, the Coalfields Expressway would bypass the many two-lane, truck-clogged roads zigzagging through the mountainous region. It would link a freeway to the Virginia state line 65 miles to the southwest. So far, only a few miles are open. Design work on most of it hasn't been finished.
From the west, a 95-mile King Coal Highway is also envisioned, with some bridge work and a few miles now under construction.
Shepard, who walks to work from a nearby apartment, watched the county's population plummet 80 percent after U.S. Steel's exit. Even with the recent opening of a federal prison, Shepard bemoans the area's decline, including the end of "20 years of the best fishing you ever saw."
Nowadays, he says,
"You can fish but you won't catch any trout. It's like the coal mines. It's all gone."Recently the U.S. Senate rejected a $900,000 appropriation for a proposed interchange of the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway near Welch.
Dying counties in the U.S. were rare until the 1960s, when the baby boom ended. By 1973, as farming communities declined, roughly 515 counties — mostly in the Great Plains — reported natural decrease. The phenomenon then began to show up in industrial regions, such as upstate New York and California. Natural decrease peaked in 2002 at a record 985, or 1 in 3 counties, before increasing births and an influx of Hispanic immigration helped add to county populations during the housing boom.
Following the recent recession, birth rates have dropped to the lowest in a century. Preliminary census numbers for 2007-09 now show that the number of dying counties is back on the upswing. Recent additions include Pittsburgh and its surrounding counties.
James Follain, senior fellow and economist at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the University of Albany, said a new kind of declining city may be emerging in the wake of the housing bust — metropolitan areas that rapidly overbuilt earlier in the decade and then suffered massive foreclosures.
He cited as examples Las Vegas, Miami, parts of Arizona, and Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and Riverside in California. Like traditional ghost towns, Follain says, portions of these areas could spiral down from persistent loss of jobs and population and lose their reason for being.
Follain also pointed to a tighter fiscal environment in Washington that will limit help to troubled areas. The Obama administration announced this month it would shrink the government's role in the mortgage system to reduce taxpayer exposure to risk. House Republicans also are pushing federal spending cuts of more than $61 billion, even if it means reducing jobs.
"It's going to be a very slow recovery," Follain said.Not all U.S. areas are declining. Most places with the fastest growth since 2000 were able to retain or attract college graduates and young professionals who came for jobs and later started families. Metro areas with diversified economies such as Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., and Portland, Ore., all saw gains in college graduates; other places seeing gains or reduced losses in young adults, such as Washington, D.C., Boston and San Francisco, have burgeoning biotech industries.
In West Virginia, more than 40 of its 55 counties had natural decrease over the past decade. Yet the state still gained population overall, and averted a loss of a U.S. House of Representatives seat based on the 2010 census.
It wasn't because of a last-minute turnaround. Most of West Virginia's population gains are new residents spilling over into the eastern part of the state from the blossoming Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area [Editor's Note: the public sector is the largest employer in this area]. The three counties on the Maryland line — Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson — each had substantial increases.
It's a different story in West Virginia's northern panhandle, along the edge of Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh.
On a recent afternoon, a group of students mingled during a cigarette break at West Virginia Northern Community College in Wheeling and chatted about their futures.
"It's not that bad an area," said Demetrius Paige, 19, but there are "not a lot of jobs."He plans to leave within six years.
Kayla Murphy, 19, of Moundsville wants to stay in the state and become a nurse to help children like her brother, who has celiac disease and diabetes. She says moving out is the only real option for career-oriented people. They include her boyfriend, who left for Wisconsin to teach history.
"You have to," Murphy said. "Working at McDonald's isn't cool."