Wis. governor proposes cuts in education, local aid, Medicaid
Budget avoids tax hike, layoffs
MADISON, Wis. — After focusing for weeks on his proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, Governor Scott Walker yesterday presented his full budget — a plan that cuts $1.5 billion in aid to public schools, local government, and Medicaid, but orders no tax or fee increases, furloughs, or widespread layoffs.
Walker said the cuts could be paid for in large part by forcing government employees to pay more for their pension and health care benefits, and he gave no indication of softening his demand to reduce the power of public unions. The idea remains in limbo after Senate Democrats left the state to prevent a vote.
“This is a reform budget,’’ Walker told lawmakers inside the Assembly chamber as protesters on the floor below screamed, banged on drums, and blew horns. “It is about getting Wisconsin working again, and to make that happen, we need a balanced budget that works — and an environment where the private sector can create 250,000 jobs over the next four years.’’
Assembly Democrats refused to stand and greet the governor. His plan also was derided by advocates for those facing cuts.
Walker’s budget places “the entire burden of Wisconsin’s budget shortfall on our children, our most vulnerable citizens in need of health care and long-term care, and our dedicated public employees,’’ said Robert Kraig, director of the consumer group Citizen Action of Wisconsin.
Doing so is Walker’s “own value choice, not an economic necessity forced on him by others,’’ Kraig said.
Walker’s proposals have stirred a national debate over public-sector unions and drawn tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol for three weeks.
The governor released his two-year budget in part to support his argument that public-worker concessions are essential to confront a projected $3.6 billion shortfall.
“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,’’ he said.
By eliminating most collective bargaining, Walker says, state agencies, local governments, and school districts will have flexibility to react quickly to the cuts he outlined during a joint session of the Legislature.
Even though Walker isn’t ordering immediate layoffs, his budget will put tremendous pressure on schools and local governments, which will be asked to shoulder huge cuts without raising property taxes to make up the difference.