In response to public worker protests in Wisconsin, Fox News has falsely blamed public unions for the state's budget shortfall. In fact, the deficit is reportedly due to other obligations.
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Fox Blames Public Unions For WI Budget Shortfall
Kilmeade States That WI Faces Budget Shortfall Of "Over $100 Million" And That Walker Wants To "Close That Gap" By "Revisit[ing] The Public Employee Deals." On the February 18 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade stated:
KILMEADE: Wisconsin is a state like many states in this country that has a bit of a budget deficit, the tune of over $100 million. So one way in which new Gov. Scott Walker wants to close that gap is to go revisit the public employee deals, government worker deals that have been cut between union workers and the state government. So, why not put that forward? Why not have them pay into their pensions? Why not have them pay into their retirement health care, because we, together, have to balance the budget, and the people have spoken out in November. They want Republicans to do the cutting. And that was the easy part. [Fox News' Fox & Friends, 2/18/11]
Killmeade: Walker "Can't Balance The Budget Unless He Gets These Contracts In Line." Later on Fox & Friends, Kilmeade asserted that Walker "can't balance the budget unless he gets these contracts in line." [Fox & Friends, 2/18/11]
O'Reilly: "Wisconsin Has A $3.6 Billion Shortfall Through 2013 And Simply Cannot Afford To Pay Its Bills ... And Public Workers Are The First Ones To Take The Hit." On the February 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly stated:
O'REILLY: Well, the state of Wisconsin has a $3.6 billion- short fall through 2013 and simply cannot afford to pay its bills. This is happening in many states and public workers are the first ones to take the hit. Obviously that's not going over well in Wisconsin.
O'REILLY: But if state workers will not give back some of their benefits, there is no solution to the fiscal crisis anywhere. You can't raise taxes anymore. The folks are tapped out, right?
Where I live on Long Island some elderly people are actually selling their homes because they can't sell the high property tax rate. The solution in bankrupt states is where these two agree to some kind of give back perhaps over a few years, that way they can look for other jobs in the private sector if they don't believe they are being compensated fairly in the public arena. I think that would be fair.
"Talking Points" believes that class warfare is about to break out in America. Union benefits are strangling not only state budgets but also the private economy.
Yes, workers do need protection. They need some kind of security in the marketplace. But, the cold truth is, that federal and state workers have reached the top of their earning pyramid. Bankruptcy looms in California and other states and give-backs are coming. The blow back to that will be nasty. [Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, 2/17/11, accessed via Nexis]
Hannity Says That "Wisconsin Taxpayers" Are "Picking Up The Slack" For State Workers. On the February 17 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity stated that "Walker is asking that members of the unions do the following, put 5.8 percent of their wages towards their pensions. Most contribute almost nothing as things stand right now." He then stated, "Its Wisconsin taxpayers, they're the ones picking up the slack." [Fox News' Hannity, 2/17/11, accessed via Nexis]
In Fact, The Shortfall Is Largely Due To Obligations Unreleated To Unions
AP: Wisconsin Faces Shortfall "Due Largely To Anticipated Medicaid Expenses And A Court-Ordered Repayment To A Fund That Was Raided Four Years Ago," And Walker's Tax Policies "Actually Make The State's Ongoing Budget Problem Worse." In a February 1 article, The Associated Press reported that "[a] new analysis released Monday showed that Wisconsin's budget could be between $79 million and $340 million short by June 30 due largely to anticipated Medicaid expenses and a court-ordered repayment to a fund that was raided four years ago." The AP further reported that tax cuts pushed through by Walker will "make the state's ongoing budget problem worse":
In Walker's first month in office he's pushed a number of tax cuts that actually make the state's ongoing budget problem worse. The Fiscal Bureau predicted the state will collect about $190 million less in taxes over the next two years than previously thought, with $117 million of that coming from Walker's tax cuts.
Walker argues the tax cuts will actually spur economic growth by making Wisconsin a more desirable place for businesses to locate. Democratic critics say the potential benefit to the tax breaks isn't significant enough given the cost. [The Associated Press, 2/1/11]
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Outlines Major Causes Of Wisconsin's Budget Shortfall, Which "Include Two Big Obligations" Unrelated To Unions That Total Almost $260M. In a February 1 article, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted causes of the state's budget shortfall and reported that Walker's tax policies accounted for "more than half" of an anticipated $203 million decline in tax revenues:
[T]he Legislature's budget office reported Monday that the budget shortfall for this fiscal year ending June 30 will total at least $78 million and could rise to as much as $336.5 million, depending on when the state pays up on two massive bills.
"Wisconsin, probably more than any other state in the country, is actively and aggressively moving to get people back to work," Walker said at the bill signing.
The state already faces a more than $3 billion shortfall in the 2011-'13 budget, so approving the tax incentive bills likely means Walker will have to find more spending cuts later.
The report Monday by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that over the next three fiscal years, the state will collect $203 million less in taxes than previously estimated. More than half of that drop in expected tax collections is because of tax-cut bills that Walker has signed or is poised to sign.
The report found that the state is projecting that spending on health care for the poor and related administrative costs, prisons and the state public defender's office will go nearly $200 million over budget this year.
In addition, the state has two big obligations looming: a $58.7 million payment to the State of Minnesota after the end of a tax-reciprocity agreement between Wisconsin and its neighbor; as well as an additional $200 million that the state is under court order to return to a medical malpractice fund after an illegal fund transfer in 2007 by lawmakers and Gov. Jim Doyle. The state has to pay all of that money, but not necessarily in this fiscal year. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2/1/11]
Fox News Hosts Parade Of Wisconsin Republicans To Attack Protests
Fox's Van Susteren Hosts Governor Walker To Suggest Unions Are To Blame For Budget Shortfall. On the February 17 edition of Fox News' On the Record, host Greta Van Susteren interviewed Walker via telephone. During the interview, Van Susteren allowed the governor to suggest public sector union employees were to blame for Wisconsin's budget shortfall. From the interview:
VAN SUSTEREN: Tell me if I'm correct, and I've -- you know, I've gone through all the newspapers in the state, tried to read everything I can. But in exchange for bearing more costs and losing collective bargaining rights, or leverage, do -- are the workers promised no lay-offs and no furloughs? Is that what you're offering in exchange?
WALKER: No, what we've said -- it's not as part of a negotiation, but what I've set (ph) for this budget, which $3.6 billion short because of (INAUDIBLE) of federal stimulus aid and all the other problems of the past, that to balance that budget, we need to have these tools. And in doing so, we can save $300 million to state government employees alone for the next two-year budget. That's the equivalent of otherwise having to lay off 5,500 employees. I'm not laying off any mass group of employees in this next budget, and I'm not doing any furloughs. So things that have been done in the past would not be done there (ph).
Plus, these people will no longer have union dues automatically deducted from their payroll. That's a $500, $600 or more savings for each of these union employees. There's a lot of things happening here that I don't think all of them are aware of.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I think it's sort of, as you say, historic note and one of the reasons why this might be particularly raw is, it's sort of interesting, is that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was founded in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1936. So there's a long history of interesting labor law and labor battles.
Governor, thank you. And of course, we're going to be watching. And maybe we'll even show up if this continues to go on. Thank you, Governor. [Fox News' On the Record, 2/17/11 accessed via Nexis]
Fox & Friends Hosts Governor Walker To Defend His Agenda, Attack Protesters, Obama. During the February 18 broadcast of Fox & Friends, host Steve Doocy interviewed Walker via satellite. During the interview, Doocy invited Walker to attack the president:
DOOCY: What do you think, governor, about the president of the United States getting tangled up in your issue?
WALKER: I think we're focused on balancing our budget. It would be wise for the president and others in Washington to focus on balancing their budget, which they're a long ways from doing. $6 billion, we're 8% contribution for pensions, still below what most people are paying. 6% For health care premium, which is half the national average. Again, what we're asking for, we're not degrading public employees. I've said repeatedly, good, decent people work for the government. But they shouldn't be excluded from what everybody else in society is going through in these tough economic times, we've all got to be in it together.
Doocy then said to Walker: "We've been seeing a lot of signs. I've seen you with a Hitler mustache, you with a crosshair in a target. If people from the right did that toward people on the left, there would be a huge outcry, yet I have not heard many members of the main stream media even bring that up." [Fox News' Fox & Friends, 2/18/11]
Van Susteren Hosts Rep. Ryan To Discuss Wisconsin Union Issues. During the February 17 edition of Fox News' On the Record, Van Susteren interviewed Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). During the interview, Ryan defended the Wisconsin governor and suggested public sector unions were to blame for the state's budget issues:
VAN SUSTEREN: I bet, especially after two weeks ago. All right, speaking of Wisconsin, there's a lot of activity back in our home state, in Madison, protests. They sent out for the Democratic members of the assembly to -- or the senate to come -- come vote. What are your thoughts about what's going on?
RYAN: Our governor, Scott Walker, is trying to fix these problems before they get out of control. If we want in Wisconsin, a good business climate, we have to get at the runaway spending. We are break in Wisconsin.
He's trying to go to the drivers of our government spending, and that is our public employees have benefit packages far in excess of what their private sector counterparts have. And what he's asking contributions, about half. Health care would be half of what the federal workers pay. [Fox News' On the Record, 2/17/11, accessed via Nexis]
Hannity Hosts WI Republican Party Chair Brian Schimming To Attack Unions and Their "Mob Scene Mentality." During a February 17 interview with Hannity, Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Brian Schimming commented on Governor Walker and the WI union protests. During the interview, Schimming faulted President Obama for the conflict:
HANNITY: All right. Brian, you shot a lot of this video. We'll show this again here. And the governor is being called all sorts of names. As with you were out in the crowd, you'd explain what we are watching, what we're seeing here and what else you saw, what you were hearing? And what is their biggest complaint in this?
SCHIMMING: Well, Sean, there's kind of a mob scene mentality down at our state capital this week. It has certainly increased every day that has gone by. Today, I would say a little bit uglier. The state senate wanted to meet today and pass the governor's budget repair bill. The crowds have gotten ugly. And now, late today we find out that organizing for America, the president's former campaign group has now sent operatives into the state. So, we have thousands and thousands of public employees that have essentially walked off their jobs the last 24 hours to come down and be part of this protest. It happened today. It will very likely happen again tomorrow. [Fox News' Hannity, 2/17/11 accessed via Nexis]
Hannity Hosts State Senator Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI) To Defend Walker And Attack OFA And DNC For Supporting Protestors. Also on the February 17 Hannity, Hannity invited Wisconsin State Senator Scott Fitzgerald (R) to comment on the union protests and attack Organizing for America (OFA) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for being "involved" in the protests.
HANNITY: I think this is a big part of the program specially based on the president's remarks about unions today in support of these unions. Now, is the president supporting these, you know, for all the criticism of the Tea Party movement and all the false accusations, there you have your governor who has a 3.6 billion dollar shortfall. Senator, he's being compared to Adolf Hitler, he's being called names I can't even mention on this program. And now, we find that the president's own groups organizing for America and the DNC are involved in this?
FITZGERALD: Yes. It is troubling because I think we're at the point now where they're really trying to shutdown government. They're really trying to squelch not only the majority party but I think the governor in just allowing us to make the case that, you know, some of the concessions that the governor is looking for are reasonable. I think many working people, working families in Wisconsin are really on our side on this. It is starting to build on the other side saying, listen, these are not demands that are out of line. This makes a lot of sense. [Hannity, 2/17/11, accessed via Nexis]
America's Newsroom Hosts WI State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R) To Blame Unions For "House" Not Being "In Fiscal Order." During a February 17 phone interview with Fox News' Bill Hemmer, Republican State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald pushed Governor Walker's legislature and condemned protesters:
HEMMER: What is the atmosphere like here in Madison? The video looks hot right now.
FITZGERALD: Yes, it's very hot. It's been hot all week and obviously I think we see some national folks coming in now, and Wisconsin is definitely the focal point. And you know there's 300,000 public employees in the state of Wisconsin, but you know there's 5.5 million people.
And you know, although the protesters have been very loud and been very one-sided of what legislators are hearing, there is a silent majority out there that spoke on November 2nd, said, you know, we want the state to head in the right direction and get the house in fiscal order.
So that's what we're going to do. And you know, it's very difficult. And -- but, you know, that's what we're set out to do. And hopefully we can turn things around here in Wisconsin.
HEMMER: Just one more point here. You say people are coming in from out of state? Who's that?
FITZGERALD: I think there's some national probably union organizers that are now -- see this as a focal point and are coming in. You know. We're not the only ones doing this. Ohio obviously, and you know we're seeing in other states that this is happening as well. [Fox News' America's Newsroom, 2/18/11, accessed via Nexis]
*This item has been updated. A previous version of this item cited sources suggesting that Wisconsin's current budget shortfall was caused by tax cuts enacted by Walker. According to Politifact.com, these costs will take place during "the next two-year budget, from July 2011 to June 2013."