When Scott Walker was elected governor, his announced agenda included the slogan "Wisconsin, Open for Business." Since it included proposals such as selling state-owned power plants to sweetheart buyers, my thought was "It might as well be, 'Wisconsin: For Sale'."
That Wisconsin is indeed for sale is proven by the recent barrage of corrupt, questionable, and just plain bad legislation included as part of this year's biennial budget package.
Unlike the Federal Government, Wisconsin is constitutionally required to pass budgets. Since this is a must-pass piece of legislation, although it is not supposed to contain policy provisions, the fact is that every administration crams in things they want part of a must-pass bill that they don't want to fight over individually. That Walker has done this also is not remarkable. What is remarkable is what is in there.
We have (had) a provision to specifically exempt rent-to-own businesses from provisions of the Consumer Protection statutes, specifically "truth in lending" sections. There's absolutely no explanation as to why this is supposedly a good idea,other than that the business owners want to be able to better disguise their predatory lending practices from their victims. At the moment, this has been taken out by the Senate Finance Committee who found it smelled a bit too bad, although numerous Republicans voted to keep it in.
There is a provision to totally gut tenant's rights, desired by Republican donors the Wisconsin Realty Association (read: landlords). Among other things, this would allow landlords to perform "self-help" evictions without going to court or having Sheriff's deputies perform the evictions. Landlords would also be permitted to "distrain" or confiscate renter's property for alleged unpaid back rent or damages, a privilege they haven't had in Wisconsin for many decades. Besides the potential for abuse inherent in these changes, I can just visualize the shootout occurring when a tenant attempts to defend his home from the landlord's thugs, who of course would NOT be peace officers, and not have any warrant to enter--.
The Governor also proposes to bring back the business of bail-bonding, something else Wisconsin has survived perfectly well without. No court, prosecutor, sheriff, or police chief has asked for this. Although I would agree that too many people are held in jail not able to make bail, especially in urban counties such as Milwaukee, the answer is for the courts to take a more sensible approach to bail. Instead, it is proposed that we expose more vulnerable families to a disguised form of predatory lending, and allow unsworn and minimally regulated individuals to attempt to serve warrants, make arrests, and take alleged bail-jumpers into custody. This because someone thinks that it is good business.
And, the proposal to sell off State property has returned in a newer and more widespread form. The current proposal would allow the Governor to negotiate the sale of ANY state property, other than certain parks and other facilities specifically entailed to the public trust. The sales are a no-bid process and can be negotiated in secret, although the Legislature appears to be holding out for a review/consent role. The supposed virtue of this plan is that state property can be sold to raise money to pay down public debt. One insidious part is that the proceeds need not be dedicated to the good of the organization whose building it was. For example, University of Wisconsin dormitories could be sold off in order to pay monies owing to highway constructors (some of the state's real owners--). This is also a way to funnel taxpayer money into the pockets of the Administration's cronies while saddling unpopular agencies with crippling costs.
This improvident way of raising short-term funds by assuming permanent expenses was popular in business circles in the last century, when it seemed a good idea to sell corporate properties to management companies and rent them back--until realities of increasing rents and decreasing maintenance hit home. The company I work for, which I have always felt was relatively well-managed, never went for this fad. In fact, for years they have been consolidating OUT of leased offices into company-owned properties.
When it was pointed out to her that, under the plan as written, even the State Capitol building could be sold, Walker's chief Senatorial stooge, Albert Darling, snapped, "That's ridiculous, we would never sell the Capitol!" I would agree that it's ridiculous--but only because the Capitol has already been sold.
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