Story for The UpTake by Tracey Pollock
Pleasant Prairie, Wis.
Gov. Scott Walker signed the $68 billion biennial Wisconsin state budget Sunday, visiting a private trade show exhibits manufacturer that recently moved its headquarters to Wisconsin from Illinois, and laying out five goals of the state budget he said benefited “the hardworking taxpayers of Wisconsin.”
But, as critics of Walker’s budget noted, the wealthiest taxpayers will benefit the most.
Walker made 57 line-item vetoes before signing the budget, which passed along strict party lines, with only one Republican state senator joining the Democrats in opposition. The last-minute vetoes included removing a provision that would have allowed for a private bail-bonds system in the state, and another that would have kicked the Center for Investigative Journalism off the UW-Madison campus.
The signing ceremony started with Lt Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch introducing Walker and the CEO of Catalyst Exhibits, Tim Robbins. Top executives at Catalyst Exhibits, an exhibit design company that rents and sells products for trade shows and commercial design, gave Walker about $40,000 collectively in campaign contributions in the recall election that was held last summer after Walker pushed for controversial legislation that stripped many public employees of their collective bargaining rights as union members.
Walker began the ceremony by comparing the current budget to that of the budget that was passed four years ago by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Walker said that rather than a $3.6 billion deficit, his administration is now going into the fiscal year with a surplus of nearly half a billion dollars.
Much of this surplus came from the Walker administration 2011-13 budget changes that increased contributions in health care and pensions from state employees, and made deep cuts to public education, public health care and public transportation.
Walker claimed that 94 percent of people living in Wisconsin believed that his administration was headed in the right direction. But Democrats criticized the budget for not providing enough funds for public schools, cutting taxes too much for the wealthy and wasting a chance to provide health care to more people by refusing federal dollars to increase Medicaid.
Walker said he wanted five things from his budget: To create more jobs, help evolve the workforce to fill those jobs, transform education to fill the jobs of today and jobs into the future, invest in infrastructure and transportation and reform government to “remove people from government dependence to true independence.”
Walker said more jobs will result from lowering income taxes to “put more money in the hands of consumers, small businesses and manufacturers … to put nearly a billion dollars back into their pockets for businesses to hire more people and we are going to help more people create more jobs in the state of Wisconsin.”
However, opponents of the budget that passed the Wisconsin legislature strictly on party lines, with Dale Schultz (SD-17), being the lone Republican dissenting vote against the budget, argued that the tax breaks favor wealthy tax payers in Wisconsin. Though everyone will see a cut in what they pay, people who make over $300,000 a year will receive a tax break three times larger than taxpayers making less than $50,000.
This is the opposite of what Minnesota has decided to do. Governor Mark Dayton signed a tax increase on the wealthiest earners in Minnesota to provide more revenue to the state.
The Wisconsin budget includes a limited expansion in the school voucher program, which has been available only in the Milwaukee and Racine school districts, to a statewide program, plus a tax break for parents who choose to send their child to a private school.
“My goal is to make sure every child, no matter what their background, no matter what their zip code, to make sure that every child has access to great education,” Walker said.
Opposition has been growing against the voucher program from legislators, teachers unions and parents who are concerned about taxpayer money being diverted from public schools to private education.
Senate democrats urged Walker to eliminate the voucher expansion, with Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (SD-7) releasing the following statement: “We call on the governor to ignore the pleas of the voucher lobbyists and eliminate the entire private school voucher expansion, not just the caps currently in place.”
Walker lauded a tuition freeze at UW-schools as an investment in education, though the last Walker budget included a cut of about $250 million for the UW-system, as well as a 30-percent cut in funding to technical colleges in Wisconsin.
“Investing in transportation” includes putting more money into roads, while cutting public transportation funds in larger cities across Wisconsin.
Finally, walker’s goal of “reforming government” comes chiefly in the form of cutting public assistance programs such as food stamps and rejecting federal dollars to expand the Medicaid program in Wisconsin.
The governor ended his speech saying “it’s important to remember that, in this country, we celebrate the fourth of July not the 15th of April. Because in America we celebrate our independence from the government, not our dependence on the government.”