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Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009

The Wackiest Campaign for Governor

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Once again, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has launched one of the wackiest campaigns for governor in the history of state politics.

The last time Walker ran for governor, in 2006, roaring around the state on a Harley with his own buttoned-down Republican biker gang, he came up with one of the most bizarre campaign announcements anyone could remember. In the midst of running against Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, Walker announced that Milwaukee County, under his leadership, was on the brink of bankruptcy and needed an enormous economic bailout from state government.

Clearly, Walker was ahead of his time. Multibillion-dollar government bailouts to clean up the financial disasters of shortsighted leaders would not become acceptable for several more years.

Now, when economists across the political spectrum agree that enormous government spending is necessary to pull the country back from the brink of another Great Depression, Walker is going his own way again.

Four years after his first fizzled run for governor, Walker is not saying Milwaukee County is in any less of a financial shambles. But he’s saying he doesn’t want any of those hundreds of billions of dollars in economic stimulus funds being spread across the country coming into his county.

If you want to solve economic problems, Walker said, “The last thing you want to do is put money in hands of government.” Perhaps he meant: “The last thing you want to do is put money in hands of my government.”

Walker’s declaration that he would not apply for any federal economic stimulus funds had the effect of uniting almost everyone in the community around the question: “Is he out of his ever-loving mind?”

President Barack Obama is asking every state to present a list of “shovel-ready” projects that would immediately create jobs and put people back to work. The idea is to get more people earning money, spending money and buying goods to create more jobs producing and selling goods and get even more people earning money, spending money and buying goods.

When the county executive of the state’s largest urban county, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, turns down an opportunity to create jobs, those who will be voting for governor in two years, Republican or Democrat, should seriously question his competence.

Walker’s Grandstanding

Every year Walker submits a no-tax-increase budget proposal that cuts jobs and defers needed maintenance of infrastructure. Those who cheer Walker’s budgets overlook the fact that his grandstanding fails to provide enough money to run the county. It is left up to the County Board to provide the leadership and accept the blame for raising taxes in order to keep the county running and provide necessary services.

That happened again when Walker proudly eschewed any federal economic stimulus funds to provide employment for hard-hit residents of Milwaukee County.

County Board Chairman Lee Holloway forwarded $426 million in proposed stimulus projects to Gov. Doyle, including $96 million for deferred maintenance in Milwaukee County parks (estimated to total more than $300 million) and $62 million for new buses to stop the deterioration of local transit.

What possible objections could Walker have to receiving a financial windfall that would provide jobs for county residents and reverse the downward spiral of parks and transit?

In an article he wrote for a local newspaper, Walker seemed to have two primary objections. One was that federal funds would put financial burdens on local government. The other was that federal stimulus funds would be better spent on tax cuts. He’s wrong on both counts.

Walker said the financial burden would come from so-called matching funds local governments usually have to put up to receive federal money. For instance, he said, federal transportation grants usually require a 20% matching grant from local government.

Perhaps we are seeing the reason why Walker has been so unsuccessful in digging Milwaukee County out of the financial debacle created by a county pension scandal that first got him elected back in 2002.

Most of us who balance checkbooks would think spending 20% to bring in four times that much money in outside funds would be a pretty good deal. It’s hardly a burden, especially when county government already has a public responsibility to provide funds for mass transit and parks.

Also, we hate to break it to Walker, but his theory that the best way to stimulate the economy is through tax cuts was resoundingly proven wrong by the last eight years. The only two concerns of the Bush presidency were an unnecessary war abroad and enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans at home. That’s exactly what led the country to the brink of economic ruin.

A few very quiet, not too bright Bush supporters may fail to recognize that. But there are not nearly enough of those left to elect Walker governor.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com