- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2012

While Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made his initial mark in office with polarizing anti-union measures, organized labor says its fight to oust the Republican from office is much larger than just his curtailing its collective-bargaining rights.

And while Democrats nationally have amped up fundraising efforts in recent weeks for Tuesday’s recall election of Mr. Walker, new polls show him with the edge to beat Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, in a rematch of their November 2010 contest.

Labor groups say Mr. Walker has cut $1.6 billion to education since talking office in January 2011, resulting in slashed school curriculums, bloated class sizes and laid-off teaches throughout the state.

“Educators know the impact this budget has now — and will have in the future — on their students, schools and communities,” said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which represents public-education employees.

The American Federation of Teachers’ Wisconsin chapter says Mr. Walker’s education budget included $792 million in cuts in aid to school districts, $250 million in reduced aid to the university system and $71.6 million less for technical colleges.

Some experts have disputed labor’s estimates, saying education cuts probably are closer to $800 million to $900 million.

Mr. Walker’s critics also say his austerity measures will force at least 17,000 people to drop of out BadgerCare, the state’s health care insurance plan.

While a large swath of voters, including many Republicans, are opposed to cuts in education and BadgerCare, most also want state spending under control, said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin at Madison political science professor.

“It’s a familiar refrain … but it does mean that budget cuts for schools is a reasonably strong issue for Democrats,” he said.

But Mr. Walker’s backers have praised him for balancing the state budget without raising taxes. And they say that public schools and local governments are learning to cope with less money.

The notion the reforms are working has been central to the Walker campaign.

The recall effort was born in February 2011, when the governor called for most public workers to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits to help defray the state’s ballooning costs. Perhaps the most contentious provision was for employees to give up most of their collective-bargaining rights — a move critics say was a strictly punitive blow that had little to do with reining in costs.

The governor signed the Scott Walker Budget Repair Bill, or “Act 10,” a month later, but not before tens of thousands of union members and supporters protested inside and outside the state Capitol for weeks. It also led to 14 state Senate Democrats to flee Wisconsin in a failed effort to halt the bill.

Just how Mr. Walker’s anti-union measures have affected membership is uncertain, as many unions won’t publicly discuss their membership rolls.

The Wall Street Journal last week reported that Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — one of the state’s largest public-sector unions — fell by more than 50 percent in February compared with March 2011. The union has called the report, which was based on an unnamed source, “wildly inaccurate.”

Mr. Walker has led almost all independent polls in recent months, including a Public Policy Polling survey taken over the weekend that shows him with 3 percentage point lead over Mr. Barrett. A weekend automated poll by We Ask America shows Mr. Walker with a better than 12-point lead over his Democratic challenger, while a Marquette Law School poll released last week pegged Mr. Walker with the 7 point advantage.

The recall is the most expensive race in Wisconsin history, with more than $63.5 million having been spent by candidates and independent groups — the overwhelming majority underwritten by out-of-state sources, says the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative journalism group.

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