Scott Walker (AP/Jeffrey Phelps)

Scott Walker's sleazy new low: The callous plot to get rid of Wisconsin’s living wage law

Guv's GOP allies used the budget to gut a living wage law, deregulate payday lenders and protect police who kill

Joan Walsh
July 7, 2015 7:53PM (UTC)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s budget troubles are cramping his plan to announce his 2016 presidential campaign. He’s already been forced to delay his official launch while he wrangles with angry legislators, including Republicans, to try to fill the holes his tax cuts have created.

But Walker is known for making lemonade out of lemons. And over the holiday weekend, Walker’s Republican allies took advantage of the urgency over missing the July 1 budget deadline to slip awful new language into the budget. They got caught trying to gut the state’s open records law and had to reverse that move. But so far, Walker and his allies have gotten almost no pushback on another terrible maneuver: eliminating language defining the state’s 100-year-old “living wage.”


Wisconsin law now says employers must pay a “living wage,” defined as pay that offers “minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.” Walker has long insisted the state’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage is the same as a “living wage”; workers have sued to challenge that definition. If the state strikes the language that defines living wage more broadly, that will cut the legs out from under such legal challenges.

Fast food worker and activist Cornell White, who has filed a wage complaint with the state, talked to Think Progress about the sneaky move. “I am a hard working man. It’s disgusting that these Republicans would rather force me to feed my son with food stamps instead of standing up to their corporate lobbyist friends.”

White scoffs at Walker’s claim that $7.25 an hour is livable:  “They clearly they don’t believe their own argument since they are trying to repeal the law before they even know the outcome of the case.”

But the living wage and open records moves weren’t the only shameful additions to the budget over the weekend. Unbelievably, legislators also used an omnibus motion to deregulate predatory payday lenders, make it harder for victims of police shootings to obtain information and to gut a requirement that workers be given at least one day off a week.

You’ll recall that Walker also tried to use budget language to rewrite the language of  “the Wisconsin idea,” which guided the state’s proud university system, removing its commitment to the search for “truth” and to public “service.” He backed down in the face of nationwide shame, claiming it was a “drafting error” when records showed his administration asked for the new language.

The changes to “the Wisconsin idea” and to the open records law both produced a nationwide backlash led by opinion writers and other journalists. It’s hard not to see a class bias in the fact that Walker’s shocking living wage rewrite hasn’t triggered any such outrage. Yet.


Women’s rights advocates will remember that Walker used the July 4 holiday weekend in 2013 to sign legislation mandating ultrasounds for women seeking abortion. Walker has more than once tweeted this idiotic claim:

[embedtweet id=617362318486142976]

It’s clear the college dropout doesn’t understand the history or the meaning of Independence Day, as he repeatedly uses it to shackle women and workers.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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