Just like four years ago, Scott Walker is beginning his term in office with a massive structural deficit.
That’s about where the similarities end when it comes to the Wisconsin Scott Walker inherited compared to the one he is passing along to himself -- or rather; the one he’ll be passing over as he courts Tea Party primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire as he campaigns for president.
Scott Walker was ushered into office in 2010 on a message of job creation and fiscal responsibility, but four years later Wisconsin is trailing our neighbors in the Midwest on job creation and faces massive budget deficits thanks to Walker's fiscally irresponsible decisions and policies. So while Walker hits the presidential trail, trading on his claim that he turned a $3.6 billion budget deficit into a surplus, the state’s actual financial situation is grim. The current budget has a $132 million deficit and the next biennium is even grimmer for working families, with a staggering $2.2 billion deficit that’s only expected to get larger and Scott Walker's $750 million tax hike.
Our neighbors in Minnesota were in the same boat four years ago, when they faced a $5 billion budget deficit on the heels of the Great Recession. Democrats in leadership there chose to invest in education, increase the minimum wage, target tax relief to the middle class, and expand Medicaid -- and today the state has a $1.2 billion surplus. In stark contrast to the path our neighbors in Minnesota chose four years ago, immediately upon taking office, Scott Walker passed a draconian budget that drastically cut critical government services, raised taxes on working-class families, and gave huge tax breaks to big businesses and those at the very top.
Walker’s fiscally irresponsible policies included spending a projected surplus -- money that the state didn’t yet have -- on a lopsided income tax cut that puts individuals making $21,760 a year in the same tax bracket as those making $239,600. In addition, Walker raised taxes on nearly 140,000 seniors and working class families to the tune of $69.8 million, while dishing out $610 million in tax breaks to businesses over his term.
Walker sold his policies as necessary for economic growth while preaching fiscal responsibility, but today Wisconsin has a huge, growing deficit. As other states enjoy surpluses thanks to the nationwide economic recovery that has come after the recession, Wisconsin is slated to be one of the few with a deficit headed into the next budget.
And it will be hard to dig out of that deficit -- and to sell presidential primary voters on his message of fiscal responsibility -- in a state with diminishing job opportunities and low, stagnant wages for working middle class families. The most reliable, most accurate, economic data shows Wisconsin consistently ranked dead last in the Midwest in private sector job creation and lagging the national rate of private sector job growth under Scott Walker. Wisconsin also ranked dead last in income growth among Midwestern states over Walker’s full term. Had Wisconsin simply grown jobs at the national rate over Walker’s term, tens of thousands more Wisconsinites would have jobs today.
In no uncertain terms, Scott Walker failed miserably at creating jobs in his first term; he didn’t even hit the halfway mark of the 250,000 jobs promise he made while campaigning for governor in 2010. That’s hardly a record to run for president on.
But it’s not just jobs and the economy where Walker fell short.
Walker made record cuts to education in his first term and left some school districts handcuffed and unable to fund their day-to-day operations without a ballot referendum asking taxpayers for more funds.
In his first budget, Walker cut a state record $800 million in direct state spending on public education and mandated new limits on local school districts that left many schools scrambling just to fund their operations for the next school year. In addition to his historic cuts in direct school aid, Walker made changes that translated to $800 million in lost revenue authority for the state’s 424 school districts over the biennium. The budget also eliminated several revenue limit exemptions such as school nursing, pupil transportation, safety equipment and funds for school security officers.
By 2012, Wisconsin led the nation in cuts to education spending per-pupil.
Public schools aren’t coming out ahead under Scott Walker, our schoolchildren aren’t, our teachers aren’t, and working class families aren’t, so who stands to benefit? Advocates for unaccountable vouchers schools, funded by special interest billionaires and led by long-time Walker insider Scott Jensen, stood to gain, with voucher schools on the receiving end of a staggering influx of taxpayer funds -- an increase of approximately $124 million over Walker’s term. The nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimates that school choice advocates have spent more than $10 million in state elections in the past 12 years.
According to the most recent data, 73% of the voucher students in the new statewide voucher program were already attending a private school before receiving state-funded vouchers. The 2013-2015 budget included $30 million for a private school tuition deduction for parents at any income level. This session, Walker wants to expand the unaccountable voucher program statewide by removing the enrollment cap - which conservative estimates say could cost a total of $1.2 billion.
Even considering his huge giveaway to voucher school special interests, perhaps none of Walker’s decisions where as politically opportunistic - and equally harmful to the people of Wisconsin - as his decision to reject hundreds of millions of federal dollars meant to expand Wisconsin’s Medicaid program, BadgerCare.
Scott Walker kicked more than 60,000 people off of BadgerCare. 61% of those Wisconsinites were priced out of healthcare. If Walker had accepted the federal funds available for expansion 87,000 more of Wisconsin's neediest citizens would have affordable, quality health insurance -- and the state would save hundreds of millions of state taxpayer dollars in the process. There isn’t a better deal to be had; Republican governors in other states, like Walker’s presidential opponent New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, understand that expanding Medicaid is good for their citizens and good for their state budgets.
Unfortunately, Walker’s second term promises only more of the same failed policies. Except this time he’s also running for president and is facing, perhaps for the first time in his political life, opposition from his own caucus, which is pushing to advance a litany of far-right proposals like contentious right-to-work legislation and a complete ban on all abortions after 20 weeks.
It’s not that Walker doesn’t support such extreme stances, he absolutely does. But a drawn-out legislative battle, especially one that slows the budget process, will throw a wrench in Walker’s plans to be out of Wisconsin and on the presidential campaign trail as soon as possible.