Saturday, February 19, 2011

So, have you actually read Walker's "budget repair" bill yet? You might be in for some surprises.

So, Have You Actually Read the "Budget Repair" Bill?
The bill makes for rather lengthy leisure reading. With the Legislative Reference Bureau's analysis included, it runs 144 pages. Here's a link to the text of the bill and the analysis.

I'd like to be able to say I saved you the trouble by reading all of it it for you, but that would be a lie. But I did skim it, and I read the LRB's analysis. The union busting is bad enough. There's also a bunch of financial stuff that involves a lot of borrowing. I'm not an expert, but I suspect that parts of it -- call me a cynic -- might not hold up all that well if real committee hearings were held on the bill. But the part of the analysis that caught my eye was this:
Currently, this state owns and operates numerous heating, cooling, and power plants that were constructed by the state to provide heating, cooling, and power to state facilities. The Department of Administration (DOA) determines the method of operation of these plants and may delegate this authority to any other state agency that has managing authority for a plant. This bill permits DOA to sell or contract for the operation of any such plant. The bill exempts such sales and contracts from the requirement for approval of the Public Service Commission (PSC) that may otherwise apply under current law. The bill provides that the net proceeds of any sale, after retirement of any outstanding state debt and any necessary repayment of federal financial assistance, is deposited in the budget stabilization fund. The bill also allows DOA, at any time, to petition the PSC to regulate as a public utility any person who purchases or contracts for the operation of any plant under the bill. Under current law, the PSC has regulatory authority over public utilities, including the authority to set rates for utility service.
My photo shows the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Charter Street heating Plant, currently undergoing conversion from coal to natural gas. You might have wondered what it would have to do with the deficit "crisis" and the "budget repair" bill. Now you know.

In addition to stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights, the bill proposes allowing the state to sell some valuable assets in the form of state-owned heating and power plants like the University's. The idea, presumably, would be to save taxpayers money by buying back heat and power for public buildings from the new owners.

You can imagine how that would work out with this administration. Probably like Chicago selling its parking meters and then watching rates skyrocket. No wonder Walker wanted to pass it in the dark of night, or better yet, in a crisis atmosphere with no time for anyone to look at the fine print or hold hearings. And you kind of wonder what other goodies are in there.

This provision in the budget bill may also provide the real reason that Walker shut down the biomass conversion that was originally going to be part of the heating plant's upgrade. Folks attributed Walker's action to crude anti-environmentalism, but maybe there was another reason. Perhaps they simply figured that adding biomass capability, which is more expensive to operate, would make the plant less appealing -- i.e., less profitable -- for potential buyers (like maybe the Koch brothers?)

This is another example, in addition to the union busting, of why this bill is a perfect example of what Naomi Klein calls the "Shock Doctrine" -- using the urgency created by a natural disaster or financial crisis to ram through legislation that violates the public interest. And it's worth noting that wherever the Shock Doctrine has been applied, two of the things that happen most frequently are the passage of draconian anti-labor laws and the sale of state assets to corporate insider.

Walker's contrived crisis is such a perfect example that it has not escaped Klein's attention. Here she talks about with Chris Hayes, explaining why the Wisconsin protests matter to the whole country.

1 comment:

What's Next said...

This makes me wonder where the money trail leads? It sounds like a bad idea!

Why some people think private is better than public I will never understand. At least when it is public there is a small chance of changing things.