In more than three weeks of historic, 'round-the-clock protests at the Capitol involving hundreds of thousands of people, one thing has stood out: They have been overwhelmingly peaceful.
In a news conference last week, Mike Huebsch, secretary of the Department of Administration, praised police and protesters alike, adding, "It's indicative of the fact that we can strongly disagree and not be disagreeable."
But to the Wisconsin Republican Party, this is all a big cover-up. There is violence in Madison, and you'd better keep the kids and Grandma away from those unruly Capitol mobs, lest they turn their drumsticks into clubs.
Mark Jefferson, head of the Wisconsin Republican Party, sent out a fundraising letter to supporters in late February, writing, "Don't be fooled by the media hype. These protests are anything but peaceful."
What insidious things have been happening that the liberal media have either not noticed or refused to cover? "Inside the Capitol, Republicans have been spit on, pushed around and verbally attacked," Jefferson wrote. "Most legislators can no longer move around without a police escort, and threats of violence have become commonplace."
How can a person fight back against these unruly mobs? Jefferson suggests "a donation of $200, $500 or even $1,000 to the Majority GOP Conduit." Think of it as protection money.
Jefferson did not return numerous calls for details about his claims. But they are news to Charles Tubbs, chief of the Capitol Police. Asked about these purported threats to legislators, Tubbs says, "I don't currently know of anything."
No one has provided any substantiation for Jefferson's claim that "most legislators" are using police escorts, or that threats of violence are "commonplace," or that Republicans are being spit on. There was one well-publicized incident last week when protesters followed Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend), shouting "shame" at him. But the situation was quickly defused, and Grothman later told The Capital Times he never felt threatened.
As of last Friday, there had been about 16 arrests, most for disorderly conduct. But Tubbs added that seven or eight of those were people who insisted on being arrested. Tubbs praised the protesters' behavior: "The cooperation has been unbelievable."
Huebsch also didn't know of any harassment toward legislators. "If there is harassment, for the most part, you can find it out on YouTube before I could tell you."
Adds Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison), "Every law enforcement agency has said these are peaceful protests with no incidents of violence." She calls Jefferson's fundraising screed an attempt "to demonize the nurses, firefighters and cops who have been rallying peacefully for their rights."
Contractors are more expensive
A premise behind Gov. Scott Walker's push to gut public-worker unions is that public workers make a lot more than their counterparts in the private sector, which is a model of efficiency.
But two recent audits by the Legislative Audit Bureau found that private consultants hired by the state in various departments actually cost taxpayers more money than when their functions are handled by state employees.
A 2009 audit of highway engineering construction projects found that consultants consistently cost the state more money than state workers. In 2007-08, the audit found, there were 287 construction projects, of which 127 (44%) were handled by consultants.
The state is required to do a cost-analysis assessment whenever it wants to hire a consultant. The audit analyzed 125 assessments for road projects between 2007 and 2008 and found that transportation staff could have completed the work for less money. But consultants were hired nonetheless, because the state didn't have the available staff to do the job.
In addition, the state lacked the manpower to determine whether contractors had met required standards - it later determined some had and some hadn't. Some companies should have been fined for substandard work but weren't, the audit said.
Finally, a 2009 audit of the state's Accountability, Consolidation and Efficiency Initiative found that "any savings and efficiencies achieved through consolidation have been offset by payments of $15.2 million to four contractors that helped to create and implement the ACE Initiative."
And justice for some
The State Bar of Wisconsin warns that Walker's budget will erode the quality of justice for the state's poorest residents.
Walker wants to eliminate $4.6 million the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation uses to fund civil legal services, says bar spokesman Tom Solberg.
Besides making it harder for state residents facing "evictions, divorces and other critical legal issues," Solberg says, the cuts will make it harder for state courts to function efficiently. He's referring to "the added burden placed on the courts and other parties when individuals appear in court without the assistance of a lawyer."
According to the bar, the budget also eliminates funding for data collection to study racial profiling in Wisconsin.
But Walker's budget isn't all bad news from the State Bar's perspective. It also authorizes funds to pay for 45 new positions at the State Public Defender office, $3.4 million more for the office's appropriation for paying private attorneys, and $366,700 for court interpreters.