"Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski and regular guest John Heilemann both pulled the class warfare card and pressured Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) Tuesday on why he did not raise taxes on the wealthy to cover the state's budget shortfall, rather than pushing to require union members pay into their pensions.
"You're receiving a lot of criticism for only asking the other side to give, and they have given – on health care and pensions. Are you asking people in your state across the board, including the wealthiest, to give, to help deal with the crisis....and I mean tax increases for the wealthy, or in any way, has anyone else been asked to give?" Brzezinski pressed Walker.
Following up on Brzezinski's question, New York Magazine columnist John Heilemann asked Walker why he cut the corporate income tax rate and chose to go after unions – but Walker corrected him. "We didn't cut corporate taxes," he answered.
"I would have liked to, but we said if you've come in from another state and you haven't paid taxes, you haven't done work in this state for the past couple of years, we'll give you a two-year break if you bring your jobs in."
Walker received tough questions from Brzezinski, Heilemann, and columnist Mike Barnicle. Yet when president of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka was interviewed by the panel just after Walker, he received just one tough question – from National Journal correspondent and Fox News alumnus Major Garrett.
Heilemann even asked Trumka if "there's some way we could actually help this along here?" He was wondering who was the most competent to "conduct these negotiations on behalf of what sounds like a balkanized union system in Wisconsin?"
Barnicle pressured Walker on why he hadn't negotiated with union leaders face-to-face. Walker answered that there would be no compromise on the issue, claiming the state is broke.
Walker has been criticized from the Left for not compromising on his stance toward Wisconsin public sector unions. The unions were willing to negotiate on their pensions and health care plans, but wanted to retain collective bargaining. The governor, however, is still not willing to concede the power of collective bargaining to the unions.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on February 22 at 7:33 a.m. EST, is as follows:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: So governor, explain to us how this is not an attempt to crush the unions, given that collective bargaining is the last thing on the table? What does collective bargaining have to do with deficits and spending?
Wisconsin Gov. SCOTT WALKER (R): It is about the budget. Everything we're talking about's the budget. I, for eight-and-a-half years before I was governor was a county elected official, and every time we tried to do things to balance our county budget at the local level, collective bargaining stood in the way of us making reasonable adjustments to pension and health care, and ultimately avoiding layoffs and furlough days. (...) That's what this is all about, balancing the state's budget now, into the future, but also making sure that the local governments, who are going to see state aid cuts in this next state budget, can also balance this budget as well without cutting core services.
BRZEZINSKI: You're receiving a lot of criticism for only asking the other side to give, and they have given – on health care and pensions. Are you asking people in your state across the board, including the wealthiest, to give, to help deal with the crisis, the budget crisis that plagues not only your state but this entire country. And I mean tax increases for the wealthy, or in any way, has anyone else been asked to give?
MIKE BARNICLE: Governor, with regard to the pension and health care givebacks that we've read about in the press, as you've indicated, you just said that "they have not told me that directly." Have you asked anyone directly to sit down with you and tell you that?
WALKER: No, and I have not.
WALKER: Because I'm not negotiating over our budget. Because the budget is broke. (...) The reason we got in this trouble is because too many lawmakers and too many previous governors settled the budget through one-time fixes. We need to make a long-term commitment so that our kids aren't straddled with this into the future. The only way you do that is if you change collective bargaining so that governments – and this has nothing to do with the private sector – private sector unions are fine, they're part of the solution, they're part of getting the state working again – but for us ultimately to balance the budget, our local governments as well as the state needs to have the long-term tools to make a commitment to getting this done into the future as well as today.
JOHN HEILEMANN: Governor, you just said that the state is broke. You've been in office for just a couple of months now. The first thing you did when you came into office, virtually, was to cut the corporate income tax rate and enact a bunch of other tax cuts. To go back to Mika's question, given the kind of shared sacrifice that you're calling for and austerity measures, how'd it possibly make sense to do tax cuts that would worsen the state's fiscal situation for the years to come, in the context of the kind of sacrifices that you're asking from the public sector and employee unions?
WALKER: Well first off, one thing you're wrong about is we didn't cut corporate taxes. I would have liked to, but we said if you've come in from another state and you haven't paid taxes, you haven't done work in this state for the past couple of years, we'll give you a two-year break if you bring your jobs in.
BRZEZINSKI: You'll be addressing the people of Wisconsin at 7:00 Eastern Time tonight. What do you plan to say, and do you plan to address I think the one area that perhaps is causing the most controversy, which is the issue of shared sacrifice, and the union worker feeling like they're being asked to carry much more of a burden – will you be addressing that?