Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Next WI budget could be Walker's harshest yet

[UpdatedPressure is building on GOP Governor Scott Walker to fix Wisconsin's rutted roads and solve the state's road-financing budget crisis.

He's botched both by championing - - without the needed funding in hand - - a seven-county multi-billion dollar SE WI not-so-free freeway expansion and reconstruction plan while also starving local transit systems and pothole repair financing - - all the while refusing through an embrace of Tea Party orthodoxy to boost transportation budgets with either an increase in the gasoline tax or vehicle or driver license fees.

But his road-builder campaign donors want the big projects fully built, as do Walker's GOP legislative cronies, so what's a politically-ambitious right-wing Governor to do and fix a billion-dollar mess of his own making?

Well, look to his history as Walker gets ready to launch his 2017-'19 state budget, which will also be the state budget upon which he runs for re-election as Governor or the budget preceding another ineffectual run for President in 2020 -- or both:

*  Walker will cobble together some funding through cuts in non-transportation areas and transfer that money to big highway projects. 

His initial cut to the UW system, in the last budget was $300 million, reduced $50 million by the legislature. Don't be surprised if he goes after the UW, again.

*  In his first budget, Walker ended state-financed recycling. The Legislature restored part of it. 

In his last budget, Walker proposed freezing for thirteen years all state land conversation purchases through a DNR-managed borrowing program, ended all state spending for state parks, and axed a swath of DNR science staffers to further his pro-commerce, pollution-enabling deregulation of the state's land, air and water.

While the Legislature restored some of the land purchase borrowing, I'd expect more cuts to the DNR, and perhaps more movement towards selling park naming rights, or even park land itself to fulfill Walker's purported love for small government.

Except when it comes to the Lake Mendota mansion he lives in, the drivers and pilots he enjoys, nice benefits, unlimited time off to campaign nationally with state-paid security and a $12,000-per-month salary.

*  Walker has slashed K-12 education, declined $550 million in federal funding to expand Medicaid, raised taxes on the poor to fund a tax cut for higher earners, booted tens of thousands of Wisconsinites off food aid, - - here and here - -  cancelled Planned Parenthood contracts and followed an ideologically anti-urban path - - take it from the city's leading history, John Gurda - - that has harmed Milwaukee, the state's biggest city where most of the state's poor people live.

So I would expect him to target social service programming and what is left of the safety net in the state as a piggy bank to raid for highway spending that principally serves the wealthier, whiter Milwaukee-area suburbs which provide Walker with his electoral base.

And just as he has transferred the responsibility for budgeting fairness and decision-making responsibilities to the Legislature, where some of his more Draconian proposals have been moderated - - the UW cut, the recycling and land acquisition abolitions - - Walker could make large trims to state shared revenue - - where funds are returned to municipalities and local governments in exchange for a prohibition on local income taxes - - and let mayors and city councils and county supervisors and school boards figure out how to provide the services Walker and his Legislature could punted their way.

Update, 12:39 p.m. Veteran state government watcher Steve Walters predicts Walker will fund some road-building and repairs with a tax shift that trades vehicle fees or more pennies at the gas pump for a massive new tax cut for business.

Problem is: another loss in revenue to local governments because of the way the tax Walker wants to end is distributed.

More of that you-know-what rolling downhill, an old state budgeting screw-em trick.

The bottom line is that Walker needs to serve his road-builder and business donors who are demanding bigger and better roads, while at the same time Walker needs to firm up his conservative credentials with one, possible two elections on his Ronald Reagan impersonation itinerary.

For Wisconsin residents, that means a budget balanced on the backs of low-income citizens who have the least clout to resist it.

And if some Democratic cities and Mayors and University towns feel the heat, a Walker-GOP-and-suburban win-win-win.



Jake formerly of the LP said...

Youre leaving out the Steve Walters story from yesterday which says Walker and WisGOP are planning to eliminate personal property tax for business- a giveaway of more than $273 million. And I bet there will be no way for local governments to make up the difference other than having to raise the property tax for homeowners.

All to suck up to Grover Norquist. and still collecting the salary given to him by Wisconsin taxpayers. Disgusting.

James Rowen said...

@Jake - - Thanks. Will add.

Anonymous said...

This is the same GOP plan across the nation. Massive increases in spending/tax breaks to those who will immediately funnel a healthy percentage of that money right back into the political coffers. Except when it comes to local roads. Texas, Iowa and Michigan are just a few of the states who now have a transportation policy that takes old paved roads in need of repair and, rather than fixing them, bulldozes the pavement out and returns them to dirt roads as they were 100 years ago. This is progress in the minds of the GOP.