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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The discriminatory actions of the Joint Finance Committee

by folkbum (see Monday update below!)

On Monday, April 11, Wisconsin's Joint Finance Committee will be taking public testimony on the 2011-2013 biennial state budget. This will be at State Fair Park in West Allis, and they are scheduled to start hearing testimony at 10 AM and wrap up promptly at 6 PM.

Oh, how very thoughtful of the JFC, you may be thinking, bringing the committee to the state's most populous county and holding a full day of hearings in a venue large enough to accommodate a large crowd. Well, that's Republican Robin Vos's thought, anyway; “The reason we’re having them in venues that are large is because we saw all the protests that happened at the Capitol. People who told us we intentionally had them in small rooms because we didn’t listen to what people had to say,” Vos told a local teevee station.

Sure. But what about people like me, who will be working all day Monday? Remember, when teachers abandon their posts to advocate for their children, we get beat up in the media, so don't even think about encouraging us to call in sick or anything. And if I booked out of school as soon as it was over, I could maybe be there by 4:30 and get in line--only to be SOL when they turn off the mics at 6:00.

And this is the problem shared by working people all over southeast Wisconsin, as was pointed out in a news conference Friday. (I live-tweeted the presser; scroll back through my archives from Friday afternoon for more.) The point was made over and over, as parents, teachers, and students spoke to the assembled media (though not much media assembled, showing just how little even they care about this) that deliberately scheduling hearings during the working day excludes anyone who works for a living and lacks the kind of authority or flexibility to say, Hey, boss, I'll be back in some indefinite amount of time because I need to go advocate for the future of my children.

But we've always done it this way, Vos said to that same teevee station. Maybe so, but do not think for a second that this year's budget is a budget like we've "always" done. There are devastating cuts to everything--not just schools, but transit, health care, environmental programs, and more. (Not cut: prisons. Also cut: taxes for investors and corporations.) The people most deeply affected by these unprecedented cuts are, simply, going to be shut out of any chance to explain how odious these cuts will really be.

As one teacher who spoke at the news conference put it: This is discrimination. When you deliberately schedule your event to exclude those who most need to attend--and whose voices you most need to hear--it's discrimination, pure and simple.

Thankfully, a few groups are organizing methods for giving testimony that aren't subject to the discriminatory hours of the Joint FInance Committee. Starting at 6:30 AM and going all day, Monday April 11, there will be "drive thru testimony, a table set up outside of the Pettit Ice Center at State Fair Park. You can drop off your written testimony or use materials provided there to write out your note to JFC. You can also have your testimony video recorded, assuming your hair isn't still in 6 AM rollers. The Petit offers easy on/off access to I-94, so whenever you get a free moment, swing by.

There's also a rally scheduled for outside State Fair Park at 4:30, if you can attend that.

You can mail testimony to JFC: Co-Chairs of the Joint Finance Committee, State Capitol, Madison, Wisconsin 53702. Emailed comments are accepted at budgetcomments@legis.wisconsin.gov.

Monday Update: If I'm reading this story right, it sounds like Democrats on the JFC had a plan to allow additional (perhaps informal or off-the-record) testimony, but as soon as they shared the plan with Republicans--notably, Robin Vos--to get them on board, the GOP JFCers booked the room and scuttled the plan! "The hearings are going to be done when we say they're done," Vos said. That's pretty scummy, Vos. Republicans ought to be ashamed of themselves for that.

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