Andy Stern frames the debate in Wisconsin correctly as a 15-state power grab to take away worker’s rights. Under the cover of a fiscal crisis created by Wall Street and a deep economic recession, right-wing politicians in Wisconsin and elsewhere are trying to pin the blame on public employees and strip them of their bargaining rights. This is a power grab.

But this wouldn’t be a Republican power grab without some profit-taking for corporate allies, now, would it?

The fight in Wisconsin is over Governor Walker’s 144-page Budget Repair Bill. The parts everyone is focusing on have to do with the right to collectively bargain being stripped from public sector unions (except for the unions that supported Walker running for Governor). Focusing on this misses a large part of what the bill would do. Check out this language, from the same bill (my bold):

16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state?owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state?owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

As Mike Konczal explains, this would allow the state to make no-bid sales, overriding public interest concerns, of heating, cooling or power plants. This rider is just an invitation to corruption, and part of a familiar pattern of selling off state-owned property to fill a budget gap in the short term, with disastrous consequences in the long term. See the sale of Chicago’s parking meters. Hat tip to Ed from Ginandtacos on this one, who writes:

If this isn’t the best summary of the goals of modern conservatism, I don’t know what is. It’s like a highlight reel of all of the tomahawk dunks of neo-Gilded Age corporatism: privatization, no-bid contracts, deregulation, and naked cronyism. Extra bonus points for the explicit effort to legally redefine the term “public interest” as “whatever the energy industry lobbyists we appoint to these unelected bureaucratic positions say it is.”

He rightly connects the Koch Brothers, who have been active in purchasing power plants and who basically funded Scott Walker’s gubernatorial run, to this rider. This is corporate cronyism of the worst order.

We can get into minutiae about the pay of state employees or percentages of pension fund liabilities over time. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is a naked power grab to fatten the coffers of corporate benefactors, in addition to busting the only worker-led counterbalance to that inevitability.

More from Paul Krugman.

David Dayen

David Dayen