Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan denies that his state is an ‘American Tunisia’ when it comes to budget deficits. But some analyses indicate that similar struggles lay dormant in other states.
States like California and New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have budget short falls many times larger than those in Wisconsin and they make up a larger share of the total budgets in those states. Wisconsin’s comparatively modest shortfall of $1.8 billion projected for 2012 is in the neighborhood of 13% of the total budget for 2011 for the state. California’s shortfall, by contrast, is just over $25 billion and 29%, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The protests that ignited in Wisconsin appear to be due to the tactics being used to reduce the budget rather than a protest against state spending per se, though there have been some counter-protests. Governor Scott Walker is attempting to balance the budget by reducing the cost of state employees, but is also trying to side-step the ability of those unions to negotiate. This tactic has been the focus of much of the protest to date. By the end of the week, on Feb 19, the Washington Post reported that 68,000 people turned out to protest Walker’s proposal. The Post, also reported that: Asked if Wisconsin was the Tunisia of America in terms of the budget battle, Ryan cited other states that were facing fiscal crises, and defended fellow Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. "All levels of government have been making empty promises to people and these governors have been telling people the truth," Ryan said.
Ryan’s implication that some are being less than fully truthful is perhaps the more civil side of the discussion about the Wisconsin budget. The Wisconsin GOP has reported to the Washington Post that people protesting Walker’s budget proposal have used the following slogans on their signs:
• Scott Walker = Adolf Hitler
• Midwest Mussolini
• Hosni Walker, WI Dictator
• Why Do Republicans Hate People?
• Walker Terrorizes Families
• RAPE Is Never "a Good Choice"! (Raping public employees is not the way to balance the budget)
• 1933 Hitler abolishes unions! Look it up!
While comparisons to fascism in Europe in the 1930’s may distract from the political arguments for and against a particular approach to the Wisconsin budget, the comparison of the situation to the Middle East appears to have a broader appeal. The analogy to Tunisia and the protests in the Middle East have also been picked up by the BBC, apparently originating from some of the protesters themselves. The BBC reports: Anti-Walker protester Jim Schneider, 69, waved a sign with "Hosni Mubarak?" written next to a picture of the governor, who has refused to negotiate with the unions.
"The Egyptians have been a great example to us," the retired teacher said. "What happens here is going to be very important to what happens in a lot of other states, just like the thing that happened in Egypt had an effect on a lot of other countries in the Middle East."
Representative Paul Ryan is Chair of the House Budget Committee. He is currently serving his seventh term as the Congressman from Wisconsin’s first congressional district. Only five states; Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, Alabama, and Arkansas, do not anticipate negotiating budget shortfalls this year.