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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Issue of the Week: Sen. Darling's Budget Priorities

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"This is the best budget I've seen since I entered the Legislature," said state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

Darling, the co-chair of the powerful budget-writing Joint Finance Committee (JFC), made that statement while signing off on an $800 million cut to K-12 education, which Darling tried to spin as actually "increasing" school funding. The only "increase" is that Gov. Scott Walker wanted to cut $834 million and the JFC instead cut $800 million. This budget also will allow local property taxes to increase. But when combined with other cuts, public schools around the state will have to cope with a $1.7 billion cut overall.

So, Darling argued in the face of all logic, her $1.7 billion cut will protect teachers' jobs and educational opportunities, while Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi, who has blocked the Republicans' illegally passed collective bargaining bill, is the one who is putting teachers' jobs in jeopardy.

Up is down and down is up.

No wonder why Darling's recall is generating so much enthusiasm.

But that's not the only damage that Darling's JFC did last week.

As part of a massive transportation package, the Republicans on the committee were quick to help their road-building friends by adding a provision that would force local governments to use private contractors—and not public employees—on road projects totaling $100,000 or more. This will obviously take away flexibility and discretion from local elected officials and increase costs.

So even if public employees could do the work more cost-effectively, private contractors would get the job.

Mind you, this comes just a week after a report that the Department of Transportation's use of private employees costs more than using its own employees. According to Channel 3000 in Madison, the extra cost in the first four months of 2011 alone was almost $14 million. The reason? Lack of staff, too many projects.

Darling's transportation plan in the "best budget" will only make the problem worse—and gouge the taxpayers.
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