Walker must offer more than ‘Go Packers !’
|Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley);||Date:Feb 3, 2011;||Section:Opinion;||Page Number:10A|
Walker must offer more than ‘Go Packers !’
Yes, state’s fiscal condition is bad, but what will governor do about it?
Plus, answer to less democracy is not ending democracy in Supreme Court race
Perhaps it’s fitting that Gov. Scott Walker gave his State of the State speech the night he declared a state of emergency. While the snowstorm was a natural occurrence, the state’s dire fiscal condition is entirely man-made. Let’s understand where the state is now. The state is facing two deficits. The first deficit is in the current budget year that ends in July. Despite the tax increases and the budgetary dirty tricks, the current fiscal year is $258 million short. Included in that is a $153 million shortfall in Medicaid funding. The second deficit is even more frightening. Wisconsin has a structural deficit in the next biennium of $3.2 billion, including $1.8 billion in the state’s Medicaid program. The structural deficit is the difference between the anticipated revenue and what is needed to continue services at the same level.
The money has to come from somewhere to fill both of these budget holes, and Walker has made it clear that more money won’t come from the taxpayers.
In his State of the State speech, Walker mentioned the “bill collectors” at the state Capitol. Wisconsin owes the state of Minnesota $60 million in payments from the now-lapsed tax reciprocity agreement. Because Wisconsin failed to keep its end of the deal, Wisconsin taxpayers working in Minnesota will have to file state tax forms with both states.
Wisconsin also owes the state’s medical malpractice fund $200 million. A judge declared the state taking that money to fill a hole in the state’s general fund was illegal.
Trying to dodge the state’s obligations will not work. Those bills did catch up to Wisconsin, and they will continue to dog the state until they are paid.
Walker and the Republican Legislature are committed to not raiding the state’s transportation fund, another favorite tactic of the Doyle years. That’s good, because Walker committed Tuesday to a long-overdue rebuilding of the Zoo Interchange.
But it means Walker and the Legislature will need to make real cuts in the state budget. Not just do more with less, but do less with less.
In his speech, Walker called for greater contributions by state employees toward their health benefits and pensions. Walker has indicated in the past that he would try to make cuts to the state Medicaid budget.
Other than that, Walker was short on specific budget cuts Tuesday night. Greater contributions by state employees will not be enough to fill the budget holes. Neither will Skype video chats with the Green Bay Packers.
On Tuesday night, Walker did present the case for dramatic and urgent cuts in state spending. Unfortunately, those of us who thought Wisconsin was ready to hear the necessary fiscal remedies will just have to wait until the budget repair bill is presented to the Legislature.
* * *
Tuesday, Feb. 15, is the spring primary election. For many of us, the only issue on the ballot is the State Supreme Court. Justice David Prosser is facing three challengers from the Madison area.
It’s fair to say that the incumbent, Prosser, is likely the only conservative in the race. I would be shocked if he does not make it through the primary (but you should go vote for him anyway).
The Wisconsin State Journal editors recently complained in an editorial that Prosser was getting a “free pass” this election. That would be news to Prosser.
They point out that Gov. Tommy Thompson originally appointed Prosser to the court, and that Prosser did not face opposition in 2001. They also complain that incumbent justices are very difficult to beat.
“So much for voters having a choice,” they sneered.
Their solution? The editors want to get rid of the voters and opt for a “merit based” system.
If the failure of the system is the lack of democratic participation, ending democracy is not the cure – it’s succumbing to the disease.
What the State Journal’s editors did not mention is that Wisconsin voters did reject an incumbent justice recently, Louis Butler. It was the correct decision, even if the process upset the precious sensibilities of the State Journal’s editors.
It just shows that there is more merit in the judgment of the voters than in the judgment of the State Journal’s editorial board.
(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)