Painful cuts long overdue
Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Mar 3, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A
Painful cuts long overdue
Walker’s budget corrects Doyle’s fuzzy math
(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)
What a change from two years ago. Two years ago, paging through the state budget as written by Gov. Jim Doyle was like paging through a script for the next big slasher film.
The MacIver Institute, a free-market think tank based in Madison, described the last state budget as “$13 billion of bad.”
State Sen. Jim Holperin, DConover, said of the last budget, “You know the governor’s got enough little tax and fee hikes in that budget of his to sink a goodsized battleship.”
To find out what Holperin thinks of the budget proposed by Gov. Scott Walker, we’ll have to drive to Illinois and find the “undisclosed location” where he is hiding. (Remember the good old days when the only person in an undisclosed location was Vice President Richard Cheney?)
Actually, Holperin’s opinion won’t matter much soon. It’s likely Holperin, Sen. Robert Wirch of Kenosha, and Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay will be recalled for being absent without leave to prevent the Legislature from completing work on the budget-repair bill.
The irony is, if the three state senators and Governor Doyle had created a good state budget, there wouldn’t need to be a budget-repair bill. I’m sure they will laugh at the irony once they are tossed out of office.
The budget they created used $2 billion in one-time federal stimulus money to fund existing programs, raised taxes by $2 billion, increased spending by 6.2 percent, and still left a planned structural deficit of $2.3 billion.
We tried the tax-and-spend method of economic growth and it didn’t work. Worst of all, Wisconsin isn’t even making it through the fiscal year without having to do a major correction.
Two years later, a change in administrations and the budget looks completely different.
Yes, there is still pain to be found on every page. There are deep cuts in shared revenue to municipalities and to school districts. If you’re a fan of trains, the regional transit authorities for funding passenger rail are cut.
If you’re a fan of recycling, the state is no longer going to pay municipalities to recycle. But the good news is that recycling won’t be a state mandate, either. It’s up to the municipalities if they want to recycle the little blue bins.
But this is a budget that does not raid the transportation fund. That type of fund raid allowed the state to get around the prohibition on borrowing by letting the fund borrow the money that was taken out of it for general purpose spending.
This budget eliminates 90 percent of the structural deficit. That does not mean that two years from now we are going to be facing another structural deficit. It means a permanent change.
This budget is even honest in the way it deals with the criminal justice system by restoring truth in sentencing. Truth in sentencing was originally proposed by state Rep. Walker when he was in the Legislature. Now that he is Governor Walker, it’s not surprising that he would end the early release program created by his predecessor.
This budget does not raise taxes. It also places a tax levy limit on local governments. That levy limit is going to force local governments to make some hard choices of their own.
Those school districts and municipalities that thought they were being clever by tying themselves up with long-term deals with the unions are now going to see the folly of that decision. It would have been far better for them to wait until the repair bill for the current budget became law so they could reduce labor costs. Now they will either have to reduce services or reopen their deals with the unions.
Republicans and Democrats have pushed off this day of reckoning so they could continue to buy off different constituencies with spending. Now the day has come when the state can no longer afford to push the necessary cuts off to the future.
The taxpayers have nothing left to offer, and there is no more wiggle room in the state budget. The Walker budget is not only the first honest budget Wisconsin has had in a long time, it is long overdue.