My column for the Daily News is online. It’s called, “Gov. Walker’s 2nd budget.” Here it is:
Since Gov. Scott Walker first sat behind his desk in the East Wing of the capital building in Madison, he has become a beacon, and not without good reason, for the national conservative movement. The rest of America has come to recognize what Wisconsinites have known for a while — Walker is a stalwart conservative who is not afraid to take on big issues in the face of violent opposition … and win. Perhaps because we know this about Walker is the reason why I found his proposed budget last week downright tepid, and in some cases, not very conservative at all.
Wisconsin is one of 19 states that still uses a biennial budget. Passing the budget is the single most important thing the Legislature does as it defines the states’ priorities, sets the tax burden, and delineates who will receive the taxpayers’ money. The budget proposal that Walker released last Wednesday has hundreds of elements and a few really good conservative initiatives that are deserving of praise.
Walker’s proposed budget seeks to expand school choice to more school districts. It also provides funding and initiatives to support school choice for kids with special needs, home-schooled kids, virtual schools and other creative education options. It is the conservative belief in the individual that fuels the support for school choice. Every kid is different and may thrive in different educational environments. If we, as a people, are committed to providing an education to every kid at the taxpayers’ expense, then we should support funding the best educational choice for the student. Our approach to education should be focused on educating the kids and not on just maintaining an institution. This will be a hotly debated portion of the budget, but it is a debate worth having.
Also included in the budget proposal is a limit on how much county and municipal governments can raise property taxes. It limits those governments to only being able to raise the property tax levy by the percentage of equalized property value because of net new construction or keep the levy flat if those values decreased. The budget proposal also limits property levy increases by the technical colleges. At the same time, the proposed budget keeps shared revenue flat. This will help encourage local units of government to follow the city of West Bend’s lead and control their spending.
There are many other great parts of Walker’s budget proposal, but some of them are coming up short. For example, Walker is keeping his word to lower taxes including a signature $343 million cut in the state income tax. While conservatives welcome a cut in one of the big three taxes, this one barely makes a dent in the pockets of overburdened Wisconsin taxpayers. It is not enough to have any serious economic impact or to attract people to move to Wisconsin. Even with this tax cut, Wisconsin will remain one of the highest taxing states in the union.
While fiscal conservatives advocate for a more serious reduction in the tax burden, looking at the rest of the budget proposal explains why the tax cut is so small. Overall, Walker’s budget proposal — just like the one advanced in 2011 — increases overall state spending. This time, spending increases by about 3 percent in the first year and about 2 percent in the second year. Looking further into the proposal, we see where that increase in spending is going.
Walker’s budget proposal increases spending on K-12 education by more than $100 million and on the University of Wisconsin System by $181 million. It includes an additional 280 state employees to the Department of Health Services, 208 to the Department of Transportation, 76 to the Department of Corrections, 150 for veterans programs, 61 at the Department of Revenue and more for a total increase of 710 state employees. The real hog of the increased spending is the Department of Transportation, which would receive an additional $500 million — a 7.8 percent increase. While a great infrastructure is critical to a vibrant economy, the Department of Transportation remains mired in waste and has so far escaped any serious reform by the Walker Administration.
A truly conservative budget would make serious reforms to reduce the size and scope of government and substantially lighten the load on Wisconsin’s taxpayers. This budget proposal seems drafted more with an eye to moderates in the next election than with an eye to enthusiastically continuing the conservative direction for which Wisconsinites voted.
Of course, this was just the governor’s proposed budget. It is the first step in the budgeting process. Hopefully the conservatives in the Legislature will sharpen their pencils and give Wisconsin a better version.
$500M is really not enough to build all those roundabouts that we really need. Buying a new car that gets better mileage and consolidating trips is just cheating WisDOT out of the money DOT is rightly entitled to extract from taxpayers.
Firing Secretary Gottlieb is not enough. There are a half a dozen Directors and over a dozen Deputy Directors that need to also go. Gov. Walker needs to clean house and break the cycle of cronyism.