Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s embattled Republican governor, addressed a joint session of the state legislature this evening in Madison, though the 14 Democrat state senators who have been on the lam in Illinois for weeks did not attend.
Walker, whose state faces a $3.6 billion budget shortfall, outlined a two-year, $59 billion budget that would cut spending across the board. Over $4 billion would be gutted from state coffers, a 6.7 percent reduction. “The facts are clear: Wisconsin is broke,” he said. “It’s time to start paying our bills today — so our kids are not stuck with even bigger bills tomorrow.”
Walker, who is not shy about his fiscal conservatism, takes an axe to numerous state programs in his proposal. If passed, over $700 million in education funds and over $1 billion in county and municipal aid would be slashed. That state’s Medicaid budget would be cut by $500 million. Over 20,000 government jobs would be eliminated. The state commerce department would disappear. It would also require, as his budget-repair bill stipulates, for public employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries toward their pensions and pay 12.6 percent of their health-care premiums. Taxes would not be raised.
“Our budget reduces the structural deficit by 90 percent,” Walker said. “Gone are the segregated fund raids, illegal transfers, and accounting gimmicks. Gone are the tax or fee increases. Our state cannot grow if our people are weighed down paying for a larger and larger government. A government that pays its workers unsustainable benefits that are out of line with the private sector. We need a leaner and cleaner state government.”
Turning to the on-the-run senators, Walker expressed optimism. “I have been asked a lot over the past week about what happens next,” he said. “Well, I’m an optimist. I believe that after our budget repair bill passes, tempers will cool, and we will find a way to continue to work together to help grow our economy.”
Walker then warned that if the senators did not return soon, their districts would feel the pain. “It’s true we are reducing aid to local government by just over one and a quarter billion dollars,” he said. “But we are providing almost $1.5 billion in savings through our budget repair bill. If the 14 Senate Democrats do not come home, their local communities will be forced to manage these reductions in aid without the benefit of the tools provided in the repair bill.” #more#
UPDATE: John McCormack gives a sharp take on Walker’s education plan:
In Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s budget speech, which just got underway, the governor announces plans to cut taxes and expand school choice–two proposals that could become new flashpoints in Wisconsin’s budget battle. Here’s Walker on school choice: “In addition, we will expand choice and charter programs to insure that every kid gets a great education – no matter what zip code they live in. We lift the cap on the number of students eligible to participate in the Milwaukee parental choice program and phase out the income eligibility limits. And across the state, we allow any University of Wisconsin system four-year campus to create a charter school.” As for the school choice proposal, that’s something teachers’ union members have opposed for decades. But it remains to be seen whether they want to pick a fight over this issue or stick to pounding Walker on collective bargaining, etc.
UPDATE II: The usual suspects weigh in:
Wisconsin union members say Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year budget plan will damage the state’s residents and communities for generations.
The state AFL-CIO released statements on Tuesday from a variety of union members following Walker’s budget speech.
Sue Monthey of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin says Walker’s proposed cuts to education and local governments will place an unfair burden on Wisconsin’s nurses, teachers, first responders and others.
Professional Fire Fighters Association of Wisconsin Vice President Alan Hefter accuses Walker of assaulting core values.