A Tale of Two State Trios, and Their Comparative Press Coverage

June 24th, 2011 5:32 PM

I can't say that I'm up on what every state is doing, but it's hard not to notice contrasts between two trios of states singing decidedly different tunes:

  • Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey, three states with recently elected conservative Republican governors, have either put their budgets to bed, or are on the verge of doing so, by cutting costs and not raising taxes.
  • Connecticut, Minnesota, and California, three states with recently elected liberal governors who are Democrats, are on the verge of a shutdown, serious layoffs, or issuing IOUs. All three governors have enacted or want tax increases.

So how is the press covering these situations?

In Wisconsin, 2011 Act 10, commonly known as the "Budget Repair Bill," was repeatedly and falsely characterized by Scott Bauer of the Associated Press as "eliminating collective bargaining rights." Yes, it eliminated many of them, but not all. Badger State Republican Governor Scott Walker was smeared for allegedly serving as a Koch brothers puppet, when contributions from Koch entities amounted to a whopping 0.4% ($43,000 divided by "over $11 million) of the money he raised. Democrats illegally fled the state rather than acquiesce to the bill's inevitable passage and ultimate court victory. There's little dispute that the establishment press's sympathies were anti-Walker (routinely characterized as "polarizing"), anti-GOP, pro-Democrat, and pro-public sector union.

In Ohio, media hostility wasn't much in evidence, but the public sector union lying dwarfed what was seen in Wisconsin; the press in essence played along by ignoring it. Dire assertions for which no one claimed responsibility and which apparently never saw the light of day outside of school buildings were made to elementary and secondary public school teachers that SB5, Ohio's analogous legislation, would cause their salaries to be cut by 40%-50%. The campaign seemed as much about creating negative impressions in advance of a fall repeal effort and bringing down Republican Governor John Kasich's poll numbers than it was about preventing the bill's passage, which was near certainty from the get-go. Sadly, many formerly Kasich-supporting teachers have allowed themselves to believe the baloney. Additionally, the demonstrations and displays by SB5 opponents were as just about as uncivil and mean-spirited as those in Wisconsin; unfortunately, Ohio didn't have their own version of Ann Althouse and videographer Meade to record the protests and embarrass the protesters.

In New Jersey, as I noted last night (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), the New York Times's Richard Perez-Pena was in a combination of shock and "Awww," as "polarizing" (of course) Republican Governor Chris Christie's reform bill overcame its last major obstacle to passage with substantial help from Democratic majorities in both houses. Today, the Associated Press betrayed its annoyance with Christie's by characterizing his TV appearances promoting the legislation as "taking victory laps."

Meanwhile, three states headed by Democrats careen towards crisis.

In Minnesota, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton won't sign on to a budget unless it increases income taxes on high-earners. Dayton has tried to force the talks with the Republican legislative majority into mediation; a judge has turned him down. Last week, the Associated Press's Martiga Lohn did what she could to help Dayton's cause by composing a predictable sob-story report ("Minnesota shutdown threatens weddings, much more") about the world-ending calamities which will befall the Gopher State if a shutdown occurs. Among them: An engaged couple's wedding on July 1 will have to take place at a location other than Fort Snelling State Park.

In Connecticut, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy, who has called himself the "anti-Christie" (note that the link is at the governor's official site), got the Nutmeg State's legislature to pass a budget with $2.6 billion in tax increases and a promise that he would get $1.6 billion in concessions from the state's unions. Oops:

A state employee union vote on Friday scuttled a labor-concessions package that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was counting on to balance a two-year state budget, setting the stage for cuts that could include thousands of layoffs.


The new Democratic governor, who has prided himself on being more pro-union than some of his Republican colleagues across the country, offered workers four years of no layoffs in return for a two-year wage freeze and changes to health and retirement benefits.


With the deal rejected, Malloy said he had no choice but to begin issuing layoff notices to as many as 7,500 employees.

In California, Governor Jerry Brown is also trying the tax increase-spending cut combination route. It's not working, with interesting consequences:

CA lawmakers feel financial loss for late budget


Few tears are being shed for California lawmakers.


The man who cuts the state's paychecks decided to enforce a law this week that all 120 members of the Legislature will not be paid their salaries until they balance the state's annual spending plan by closing its $9.6 billion budget deficit.


... State controller John Chiang's decision holds at least the potential to end budget shenanigans and return a measure of fiscal respect to a state that is the world's eighth-largest economy.


Chiang determined that lawmakers failed to meet Proposition 25, an initiative approved by voters last year that is aimed at getting the Legislature to approve balanced budgets by their constitutional deadline of June 15.


... When Democratic lawmakers passed a budget this month, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it. Chiang reviewed the package, finding that it did not meet the requirements for a balanced budget. He said portions were "miscalculated, miscounted or unfinished."


Chiang said it committed the state to $89.8 billion in spending but provided $87.9 billion in revenues, leaving a hole of $1.85 billion.

If the impasse is not resolved, the not-so-Golden State will once again be issuing IOUs.

At least the Associated Press is reporting what is occurring in all six states as national stories, if not always in a fair and balanced manner. The question is: Will the dire situations Minnesota, Connecticut, or California get anywhere near the attention from other press outlets that Wisconsin, New Jersey and to a lesser extent Ohio received? My prediction: Probably not -- and if there is much coverage, you can just about guarantee that the Democratic governors involved won't be described as "polarizing."

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.