Did Governor Walker of Wisconsin gin up the states current fiscal debt?
Wisconsin needs to be fiscally responsible.
There is no question that these are tough times, and they may
require tough choices.
But Gov. Scott Walker is not making tough choices. He is making
political choices, and they are designed not to balance budgets but
to improve his political position and that of his party.
It is for this reason that the governor claims Wisconsin is in
such deep financial trouble that Wisconsinites should view this as
a crisis moment.
In fact, like just about every other state in the country,
Wisconsin is managing in a weak economy. The difference is that
Wisconsin is managing better -- or at least it had been managing
better until Walker took over. Despite shortfalls in revenue
following the economic downturn that hit its peak with the Bush-era
stock market collapse, the state has balanced budgets, maintained
basic services and high-quality schools, and kept employment and
business development steadier than the rest of the country. It has
managed so well, in fact, that the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal
Bureau recently released a memo detailing how the state will end
the 2009-2011 budget biennium with a budget surplus.
In its Jan. 31 memo to legislators on the condition of the
state’s budget, the Fiscal Bureau determined that the state will
end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.
To the extent that there is an imbalance -- Walker claims there
is a $137 million deficit -- it is not because of a drop in
revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts,
benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed
$140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in
January. If the Legislature were simply to rescind Walker’s new
spending schemes -- or delay their implementation until they are
offset by fresh revenues -- the “crisis” would not exist.
The Fiscal Bureau memo -- which readers can access at
-- makes it clear that Walker did not inherit a budget that
required a repair bill.
The facts are not debatable.
Because of the painful choices made by the previous Legislature,
Wisconsin is in better shape fiscally than most states.
Wisconsin has lower unemployment than most states.
Wisconsin has better prospects for maintaining great schools,
great public services and a great quality of life than most states,
even in turbulent economic times.
Unfortunately, Walker has a political agenda that relies on the
fantasy that Wisconsin is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Walker is not interested in balanced budgets, efficient
government or meaningful job creation.
Walker is interested in gaming the system to benefit his
political allies and campaign contributors.
To achieve that end, he has proposed a $137 million budget
“repair” bill that he intends to use as a vehicle to:
1. Undermine the long-established collective bargaining rights
of public employee unions, which have for 80 years been the
strongest advocates for programs that serve the great mass of
Wisconsinites, as opposed to wealthy elites and corporate special
interests. As Racine’s Democratic state Rep. Cory Mason says, the
governor’s bill is designed not with the purpose of getting the
state’s finances in order but as “an assault on Wisconsin’s working
families and political payback against unions who didn’t support
2. Pay for schemes that redirect state tax dollars to wealthy
individuals and corporate interests that have been sources of
campaign funding for Walker’s fellow Republicans and
special-interest campaigns on their behalf. As Madison’s Democratic
state Rep. Brett Hulsey notes, the governor and legislators aligned
with him have over the past month given away special-interest
favors to every lobby group that came asking, creating zero jobs in
the process “but increasing the deficit by more than $100
Actually, Hulsey’s being conservative in his estimate of how
much money Walker and his allies have misappropriated for political
One Wisconsin Now, the progressive watchdog group that has
provided the closest monitoring of Walker’s budgetary gamesmanship,
“Since his inauguration in early January, Walker has approved
$140 million in new special-interest spending that includes:
“• $25 million for an economic development fund for job creation
that still has $73 million due to a lack of job creation. Walker is
creating a $25 million hole which will not create or retain
“• $48 million for private health savings accounts, which
primarily benefit the wealthy. A study from the federal
Governmental Accountability Office showed the average adjusted
gross income of HSA participants was $139,000 and nearly half of
HSA participants reported withdrawing nothing from their HSA,
evidence that it is serving as a tax shelter for wealthy
“• $67 million for a tax shift plan, so ill-conceived that at
best the benefit provided to ‘job creators’ would be less than a
dollar a day per new job, and may be as little as 30 cents a
State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, sums up this scheming
accurately when he says: “In one fell swoop, Gov. Walker is trying
to institute a sweeping radical and dangerous notion that will
return Wisconsin to the days when land barons and railroad tycoons
controlled the political elites in Madison.”
The bottom line is evident to anyone who cares to pay attention
not to the spin but to the budget figures: Walker is manufacturing
a fiscal “crisis” in order to achieve political goals.
Walker is not addressing a fiscal crisis.
He is not serving Wisconsin.
He is serving his own interest and those of the lobbyists who
represent his campaign contributors.
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