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Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012

Scott Walker v. Reality

Governor's 'State of the State' speech fails the truth test

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Gov. Scott Walker gave his “State of the State” speech in front of a full crowd in the state Assembly chambers last Wednesday. But Walker's speech was so disconnected from reality that he could have been phoning it in from Mars. Just days after a million signatures were filed with the hopes of ousting him from office, Walker asserted that the state was headed in the right direction with thousands of new jobs, a fully funded public education system and absolutely no political division. That doesn't seem to mesh with what's actually happening in the state. Here are some of Walker's biggest whoppers:


Walker:
“During the past year, we added thousands of new jobs.”

Reality:
Wisconsin added jobs in the first half of 2011. Then, when Walker's budget went into effect on July 1, 2011, we lost 35,600 jobs over the next six months. Jobs have been lost in each month since Walker's budget has been in effect. Essentially, the job gains in the first half of 2011 have been wiped out by the loss of jobs during the time of Walker's budget.

Even worse, Walker's Wisconsin is moving in the opposite direction as the rest of the country. While the United States as a whole has been adding jobs for 22 months as part of the broader national recovery, Wisconsin is the only state to have shed jobs in each of the past six months.

If Walker's Wisconsin had kept pace with the rest of the nation, we'd have added an additional 53,700 jobs by the end of 2011, according to an analysis by the Institute for Wisconsin's Future.


Walker:
“Our unemployment rate is not only lower than the national average, but much better than our neighbors to the south in Illinois.”

Reality:
Wisconsin's unemployment rate was consistently lower than the national average—and Illinois' unemployment rate—throughout the entire recent recession. Walker is trying to take credit for Wisconsin's comparatively lower unemployment rate during the Doyle administration.


Walker:
“We balanced the state budget.”

Reality:
First of all, the state constitution requires a balanced budget, so every governor's budget in Wisconsin has been balanced. As always, however, the devil is in the details. Walker's “balanced” budget depends on which accounting process is used. When cash accounting is used, the state's budget is balanced. But when Generally Accepted Accounting Principles' (GAAP) accrual accounting is used (as it is for publicly traded and privately held companies), Walker's 2011-2013 budget ends with a $3 billion deficit (worse than Doyle's last budget deficit, by the way).

Walker likes to highlight his so-called balanced budget when pitching his skills to the media and the deep-pocketed donors who are underwriting his recall defense, yet at other times he claims the opposite. In a letter to the federal government, the Walker administration claimed that the state would have a budget deficit through 2013, the end of his current biennial budget. If the Obama administration buys Walker's claim, Walker could then kick tens of thousands of people off of BadgerCare.

Walker is trying to have it both ways to suit his political needs: bragging about balancing the budget to appear fiscally responsible, but saying the budget is not balanced so that he can destroy Wisconsin's safety net.


Walker: “We balanced [the budget] without raising taxes, without massive layoffs, and without budget tricks, all of which allowed us to put more than $1.2 billion of new state money into Medicaid programs like BadgerCare and Family Care.”

Reality:
In reality, at the same time Walker has cut $140 million in taxes for corporations, he has raised taxes on low-income families who use the Earned Income Tax Credit ($28 million per year) and the Homestead Tax Credit ($7 million annually). In addition, Walker has cut public employees' pay by an average of $3,000 annually, and will make newly jobless people wait an extra week before receiving unemployment benefits to save an additional $48 million.

And that $1.2 billion of additional Medicaid money? The reality is that the state's Medicaid programs needed an additional $1.8 billion at the time to be fully funded. But Walker and Republican legislators deliberately underfunded the program so that they could ask the federal government for permission to kick people off of BadgerCare.

Walker's support for Family Care is paper-thin. He capped the program's enrollment, did an about-face and lifted the cap, and then took credit for lifting the cap. What the governor didn't tell the public is that the federal government ordered him to lift the cap so that disabled Wisconsinites wouldn't be shut out of this essential program.


Walker:
“Today, 94% of our job creators believe Wisconsin is headed in the right direction.”

Reality:
Walker is citing a recent survey conducted by the conservative Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the anti-government, big-business lobby that consistently props up Republican politicians—not exactly an objective measure. There are many small-business owners who disagree.


Walker:
“We heard many business owners say that they have jobs but that they cannot find enough skilled workers to fill them. This is a problem that must be solved.”

Reality:
Virtually everyone agrees that it must be solved, but Walker's budget went in the opposite direction. Walker cut funding for the Wisconsin Technical College System (WCTS) by $72 million over the next two years.


Walker:
“Employers also told us that they need a 21st-century infrastructure system to drive economic development … We know that a strong transportation system helps manufacturers and farmers get product to and from market and it keeps good people on the job building that infrastructure.”

Reality:
Walker might say he cares about a modern transportation system for moving products, but he certainly doesn't care about getting people from Point A to Point B. He rejected $810 million in federal funds for high-speed rail, which would have connected Wisconsin with the rest of the Midwest—and created jobs. Now officials are considering having the high-speed rail go through Iowa to Minneapolis, rather than through Wisconsin. The rejection of funds also jeopardized federal money for upgrading the Amtrak line between Milwaukee and Chicago, so now Wisconsinites will have to foot that bill. Walker and his Republican allies killed off the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail line and regional transit authorities (RTAs) throughout the state. His budget also slashed public transit by 10%, and he has done nothing to help local bus systems create dedicated funding sources.


Walker:
“Many of us believe that the $3 billion tax increase imposed a few years ago actually led to the massive job losses through 2010.”

Reality:
Walker can believe whatever he wants, but virtually all unbiased economists believe the fact is that Wisconsin lost jobs as part of a global economic downturn created by irresponsible Wall Street firms. Taxes were not the issue.

Walker:
“Last year, I appointed the bipartisan Commission on Waste, Fraud and Abuse. The members turned in their final report earlier this month. In it, they identified over $400 million in savings for the taxpayers.”


Reality:
The report was never voted on by the members of the committee and can't be taken seriously. According to the Democratic committee members—state Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) and state Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison)—the report includes savings found in federal programs rather than state programs. They also said the commission recommended that the state Department of Revenue go after tax cheats, but Walker cut $2 million from the state's tax collection efforts.

Walker:
“I want to improve our schools and ensure that every kid—no matter what ZIP code they live in—has access to a great education.”


Reality:
Walker has cut an unprecedented $800 million from K-12 education while limiting the amount of levy a school district can raise. Taken together, that's a $1.7 billion hit over the next two years.

As a result of public schools' tight budgets, an estimated 3,400 educators—about half of them teachers—lost their jobs across the state. Class sizes are increasing and specialty courses—especially classes that teach technical skills—are being dropped.

The cuts will get worse in the coming years, since school districts have used one-time federal stimulus funds to patch holes in their budgets.

And despite Walker's feel-good rhetoric, his cuts have hit the poorest kids the hardest.

“Districts with more than 60% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch had their general aid from the state reduced by $558 per student, while those with the most well-off families had state aid cut by only $294 per student,” concluded the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families' Wisconsin Budget Project.