Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is set to sign a two-year budget that provides tax breaks for state businesses, individual taxpayers and multi-state corporations yet includes zero state sales or income tax increases, and limits the amount schools and local governments can raise property taxes.
Furthermore, the budget contains deep cuts in education spending, health care and programs for the poor. The state will slash aid to public schools by $800 million over two years, and cut Medicaid by $500 million by increasing co-pays and deductibles. Poor families will see a reduction in their income tax credits if they have two or more children.
Critics of Gov. Walker’s myopic plan fear — by granting tax breaks to corporations, freezing property taxes, and slashing the social safety net — the governor will bleed Wisconsin dry in the long run.
These same critics say the devastating cuts to schools and public programs place an unfair burden on the middle class.
"Everybody knows we needed to make cuts, everybody knows we had to ask public employees to be part of the solution, too, and we were willing to do that," said state Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton. "But the way that this does it really, really puts a lot of the solution on top of people who can least afford the cuts that are given to them."
Opponents of Walker’s budget plan also say it’s laughable that Republicans are claiming to be fiscally responsible when they’re guaranteeing the future bankruptcy of the state.
Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, a progressive advocacy group, said the cost of the budget’s tax cuts will "skyrocket" in coming years.
"In the next 10 years, it’s $2.3 billion," he said. "It’s impossible to say they (Republicans) are tackling the structural deficit when they are putting all these new obligations that will come online with a massive cost."
A particular point of contention are those corporate tax breaks Walker is dealing out in the midst of these harsh budget cuts.
"Part of the reason we had deficit problems in Wisconsin was because of the tax policies that allow the wealthy to squirrel more of their assets, but also because much of our tax revenue is generated by people having good-paying jobs," Ross said. "So when the economy collapsed, people were spending less money, they had less money to tax.
"And this system that the Republicans are enacting, in terms of gutting public education, in terms of what they are doing to the tech college system and our university system, will in the long run cost us revenue because people won’t have the skills to have good-paying jobs."
Essentially, Walker’s plan is a shortsighted giveaway to the wealthy and corporations that ultimately will leave the state much weaker in the future.
The new state budget also grants broad power to Walker’s administration to remake BadgerCare Plus and other state health programs with little legislative oversight.
"It’s a terrible precedent," said David Riemer, director of Community Advocates Public Policy Institute.
State legislators, he said, basically have given the governor the power to undo laws on books for the programs.
"The Legislature just sort of capitulated," Riemer said.
It also enables state legislators to sidestep some potentially controversial decisions.
"This makes it very difficult for the public to hold their elected officials accountable for these decisions," [Bob Jacobson, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families] said.
The budget also contains anti-choice measures such as defunding nine Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide preventive care to over 12,000 uninsured women, adding new restrictions on the services provided by family planning providers, and blocking women facing unintended pregnancy from accessing unbiased and non-directive information about their options.
Walker’s budget also makes men ineligible for the BadgerCare Family Planning Program.
It is clear Walker’s budget will benefit some individuals, but what is equally apparent is that those beneficiaries won’t be the majority of working class Wisconsinites.