In The News
Will Walker’s ‘budget for his buddies’ fool the public?
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted March 1, 2011
It was eighteen minutes of platitudes and 10 minutes of agony laid out in placid terms, with the real voices of despair locked out of the State Capitol. It was the budget speech March 1, so orchestrated so the governor could bask in the glow of his dwindling supporters, who were drinking not from the public bubblers but the extremist Kool-Aid of self-delusion.
But as Scott Walker in Madison was unfolding fulsome statistical exaggerations to outline his two-year $59 billion budget that cuts state aid to municipalities and schools by one and a quarter billion dollars, public school parents and teachers were already demonstrating at some 21 locations in Milwaukee.
Bracketed on all corners of 6th and Wells St. and dancing to the nonstop honks of passing rush hour traffic, teachers and parents bore home-made placards and pushed strollers while their young children twirled round and round waving signs. An older four-corner crowd of students and residents could be found waving signs at the intersection of Locust St. and Oakland Ave. -- and on and on totaling hundreds of spirited but disgusted citizens creating pockets of sympathy throughout the Milwaukee area, organized mainly by MPS parents and teachers.
It will take all these people some time to move from general dislike to specific anger as they absorb the real human pain hidden within the clinical budget. Still not fully detailed, it will keep journalists and economists busy for days figuring it all out. What they saw immediately was bad enough, so what other horrors lurk beneath?
Make no mistake. This budget doesn’t just throw the regular citizens under the bus, it even throws the bus under the bus.
There always are necessary steps to rein in spending, but that’s not what shines through. This is clearly a political document, a policy choice by an unbending and apparently poor thinking non-listener. It’s not the necessity of “we’re broke” but the ego of election victory that led him to such hasty and somewhat sloppy excessive measures..
The budget difficulties so many states face stemmed from deep national recession, spurred by Wall Street, a reduction in government revenue marked by job losses, foreclosures and runaway consumer fears, mitigated for a while by federal aid (stimulus) now coming to an end. So attacking public workers isn’t the cure, and not when they’ve conceded the financial issues.
Wisconsin’s shortfall is not anywhere near as severe as many other states. (12.8% of state spending, while the national average is 20%, according to analysis by the national Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).
With that clarity, let’s highlight some aspects and peek under the hood at Walker’s secret reasons, largely to fulfill the desires and coffers of his corporate backers. This sure is sacrifice but hardly the “shared sacrifice” he describes because of who is spared while being rewarded.
Public school children are the main sacrificial lambs. They will suffer the greatest state cut to education since the Great Depression, a slash of $900 million (by my count, . NOT Walker’s $836 billon) that puts education support back a decade.
At the same time, Walker wants to lift all caps, ZIPs and income levels on charter and voucher schools supported with public dollars -- and let anyone with a bachelor’s degree teach in charter schools, not requiring teaching certification. He would end current mandatory evaluation of voucher schools as well as mandatory residence for MPS teachers. He would also lift the cap on virtual charter schools, again without special testing.
Studies show that some charters work well and some others are close to public schools. But many are not. Very few voucher schools even match pubic school education. Yet Walker wants to cut the average school per-pupil revenue limit by $555 for public schools in the first year and butter up even more private schools with public dollars. He says his budget is needed so we don’t pass debt on to our children, but he wants them more poorly educated along the way. Which makes no sense – unless it’s really an attack on union teachers.
His pledge of billions for transportation is mainly about highways, because he’s cutting the transportation aid to counties and municipalities by 10% in the 2012 calendar year, and flattens that in 2013. That’s mainly busses and light rail. (There is also now a bill to eliminate authority for KRM rail funding.)
He would eliminate all state subsidies to local units of government for recycling – the biggest change since recycling of aluminum cans and newspapers was required in the Tommy Thompson era.
He would cut Medicaid (BadgerCare) $500 million with further wrinkles likely and no certainty on future eligibility rules, and he says he’s put an end to raiding segregated funds in the budget – but that’s because he moved that raiding and other things to the budget repair bill, which also relies on refinanced loans.
So Walker really needs that repair bill as a trigger to make his budget bill work. Hence the constant pleas in his speech for the 14 Democratic senators to come home, to give him a slam-dunk quorum. He claims that without their presence he can’t give local governments the “tools” they need to reduce the pain of the impending devastating loss of state aid.
But only his most conservative backers want those unproven tools. He has been urged to withdraw the attack on union bargaining rights and other aspects of the repair bill by resolutions from the Milwaukee Common Council and Milwaukee school board and by letters from dozens of municipalities and school districts, who would rather work with their employees than against them.
And his supposed “tools” would not by a long shot offset his state aid cuts, while he also forbids local governments from raising property taxes. When you combine such realities – millions less to towns and cities, massive cuts for public K-12, no way to cut that deep without crippling community growth and now way out – Walker is forcing the local governments to make the deep cuts in services and personnel that he won’t. So his budget threat to eliminate 1,200 state jobs with some possible layoffs seems a piker compared to what he will require the locals.
It’s the budget version of CIA rendition, hoping the pubic won’t identify the torturer transporting them into No Exit.
Several local officials envisioned to me a Wisconsin where the homeowner plows the street, picks up the garbage and cleans up the park while his children go hungry at schools, struggle with double class sizes and have no athletic or music programs – all in the name of money. Is that an exaggeration? The cuts seem to them that deep.
Even consumers when they go shopping look for more than the price tag, for real value. Companies when they pick states and cities also look for quality and value – and much of that comes from good public service, competent teachers, diverse transit, parks.
Walker would take that away. Even if he got every “tool” he wants, even thinking that “no new taxes” is the deal-maker, he denying local leaders real flexibility to create real value. My fear is he’s encouraging businesses to avoid Wisconsin. We’re not “open for business,” we’re closed for progress.
“Oh sure there’s always fat to cut and projects we don’t have to do,” said one official. “But there’s not this much fat or waste anywhere. We will have to reduce care for the unfortunate, public service, maybe health and law personnel. He may not yet be making Wisconsin Bangladesh, but we’re heading south of Mississippi.”
But only for the middle class, of course. Walker’s budget caters to corporate buddies, out of state or in. They can sell the schools handbooks, software and study guides for his new third grade reading program, yet another hurdle to confound the kids and teachers. They can buy state power plants or seek to privatize all the public services that are apparently on Walker’s agenda, some at universities.
His speech outlined intentions to break up the UW system of higher education, forcing the largest aid cuts on the system with an option for more revenue only for UW-Madison if it splits off. Later the same for UWM in plans that right now give Walker control of tuition and contracting.
Expect this budget to be scoured to expose more riches in the future in what some call the “corporate takeover of Wisconsin.”
Still, the most disturbing budget reductions affect children to a degree that turns into shameful politicking rhetoric that he wants to protect their economic future, Cut them and bleed them – and say it’s for their own good. Is there a Tea Party word for chutzpah?