Millionaire Teachers and Bus Drivers Responsible for Wisconsin's Budget Deficit

Protests against Scott Walker's union-busting Budget Repair Bill are entering their second week, and Madison's editorial pages are littered with opinions about both the bill and the protesters themselves. On Monday, The Daily Cardinal--one of the University of Wisconsin's two student dailies--ran this little gem written by junior Matt Payne.

Last year, millions of Americans around the country stood up to protest a health-care law they felt was being unfairly rammed down their throats. At the time they were mocked and berated as "teabaggers" who simply didn't understand what was good for them. Today ironically, many of those same people who thought so little of the Tea Party are now standing on the steps of the Capitol wanting their voices to be heard.

The Tea Party protesters and those that have been inside Madison's Capitol for the last nine days couldn't be more different. For one, the protesters here in Madison are dealing with facts and understand how this bill is going to affect them. I emphasize the word facts.

The teabaggers' concerns over the health care bill included that it would raise the deficit (false), that it would take away Medicare from seniors (false, and ironic), and that it mandated government death panels (obviously false.) It's worth noting that the teabaggers' other major concerns included the construction of Republican-incarcerating FEMA camps and Barack Obama's Kenyan birth certificate.

By contrast, here in Wisconsin, our concerns are based in reality. Wisconsinites are marching because this bill will destroy unions by taking away their right to collectively bargain, which will have adverse effects on teachers, and hundreds of thousands of blue-collar, hard-working Americans across the state. We're also not too thrilled that this bill will give the Republican-controlled government unilateral power to take families off BadgerCare, or about the $117 million in corporate tax breaks pushed through by Scott Walker to gin up the budget crisis in the first place.

Finally, ours is a true grassroots movement organized by labor unions and drawing support from workers and students throughout the state. Tea Party rallies, on the other hand, are primarily organized and funded by the Koch brothers, a pair of billionaire oil executives, and others from their elite circle.

So please, refrain from Tea Party comparisons.

Why is this bill necessary again? Back to The Cardinal:

Whether or not you agree with Gov. Scott Walker's repair bill is certainly your own choice. While I would politely argue that when you have bus drivers in Madison making more than $100,000 a year there is a systemic problem that needs to be fixed.

Oh yes, all those millionaire bus drivers and overpaid teachers are to blame for our state's budget deficit. The $100,000 figure comes from this article, which states that in 2009, Madison's highest-paid city government employee was John E. Nelson, a bus driver who earned an astonishing $159,258 over the course of the year. In all, there were seven bus drivers who made more than $100,000 that year. Why, that does seem excessive.

But Payne doesn't explain exactly how these bus drivers managed to earn these incredible wages (although he does succeed in making it sound like that wage is typical for Madison bus drivers, but that's another article for another day.) According to the Wisconsin State Journal:

They're among the seven bus drivers who made more than $100,000 last year thanks to a union contract that lets the most senior drivers who have the highest base salaries get first crack at overtime.

And how much did Nelson earn in overtime that year? His overtime pay amounted to $109,892, almost 70% of his total compensation.

Nelson and some of his most senior colleagues put in extra time and did extra work to earn extra money. This may be a strange contract setup and I'm not saying that I agree with the way it is structured, but it certainly isn't the cause of Wisconsin's budget problems.

Aside from bus drivers, teachers have been another popular punching bag for Republicans during this budget debate. While speaking with protesters at the Tea Party counter-rally this past Saturday, I was bombarded with the talking point that teachers making yearly salaries of $75,000 had to tighten their fancy Prada belts if Wisconsin is going to reduce its deficit.

Time for some more facts. The average salary for teachers in Wisconsin is $48,267. The median household income for Wisconsin families, according to the US Census Bureau is $51, 237. If anybody deserves to be adequately compensated, it's teachers, and they are making less than the median household income. These teachers are no more responsible for state's budget problems than our bus drivers. I promise.