Last week, the governor announced his budget, which will cover the 2015-2017 biennium. People across Wisconsin tuned in hoping to hear the governor describe his plan for rebuilding Wisconsin, after the harm done by the last two budgets. Unfortunately, there was no long-term, sustainable vision conveyed.
Understanding How Wisconsin Got Here
The 2011-2013 Biennial Budget not only divided Wisconsin and damaged the building blocks of our middle-class, but it also caused Wisconsin to be ranked 42nd in the nation for job growth and is dead last in the Midwest. Below are just some of the staggering cuts that were seen in the previous budget in order to provide $2.3 billion in special interest giveaways:
- $1.6 billion cut from public schools, which was the largest education cut in Wisconsin history
- $315 million cut from our UW System, which has campuses across the state to educate future workers
- $72 million cut from our tech colleges, which are responsible for training the workers our local businesses are demanding
The 2013-2015 state budget continued Walker's pattern of creating budgets that are unsustainable, fail families on education and health care, and don't do anything to represent middle class values. In that budget, the governor expanded the unaccountable, unproven voucher system statewide, while at the same time also choosing to expand the per pupil budget for voucher schools by at least 9% for K-8 students and 22% for high school students. The governor also rejected funding from the federal government to increase health care access to thousands of people, by rejecting the federal Medicaid expansion money. This choice not only costs taxpayers more to cover fewer people, but it also turned away an estimated 10,500 net new jobs.
So how bad is the 2015-2017 budget?
What we heard from Governor Walker last week confirmed what we expected to hear: simply put, this is a Groundhog Day budget -- a repeat of two years ago. Once again, the governor lacks any long-term vision for Wisconsin -- he is ignoring Wisconsin's middle class families and students, in favor of special interest giveaways and unsustainable tax cuts for the wealthy. He is once again dividing our state into winners and losers by gutting $300 million from our UW System, while at the same time increasing spending on big highway and interstate projects, and borrowing an additional $1.5 billion to do it.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, he does nothing to address the more than $500 million Values Deficit he created when he made the largest cuts to public education in our state's history just a few years ago. At the same time he continues to allow more private, for-profit voucher schools to operate by expanding the voucher system statewide. To make matters worse, he directly attacks hardworking families, who are already struggling to get by in the Walker economy, by throwing up illegal road blocks for families in need of access to BadgerCare or FoodShare until they can get back on their feet.
Here is a breakdown of a couple of key issue areas of the budget, starting with ten things you may not know about Walker's proposed education budget:
- It removes the cap on the unaccountable voucher program, allowing for unlimited enrollment statewide
- It spends 17.2 million more of our tax dollars for the voucher program
- It cuts per student funding by $126.9 million
- It also creates a Charter School Authorizing Board, which will further privatize education and take resources from our traditional neighborhood schools
- It cuts almost $90 million in funding for students with special needs
- It allows voucher schools to take different tests than public schools to compare performance, creating an apples-to-oranges comparison
- It mandates DPI assign schools with letter grades in both school and district report cards
- It effectively bans Common Core Standards for WI
- It permits people with no background in education, and no proven skills they can adequately teach our kids, to become licensed teachers
- It cuts funding for school breakfast, school libraries, SAGE, grants for gifted and talented students, and school violence prevention programs
As mentioned earlier, the governor cuts $300 million from the UW System budget. This will have a huge impact on what was viewed nationally as a world class University System, and will negatively impact the education our kids will receive. Here is a table that outlines the cuts per campus:
Governor Walker's budget also makes significant changes to policies that that will greatly impact the condition of our shared lands and waters and the way we leave it for future generations.
If you care about our public land and water here are ten things you may not have heard about in Walker's budget:
- It kills the Wisconsin Knowles-Nelson Stewardship fund, rejecting investment in saving wild areas for public recreation and future generations
- It guts citizen guidance of the DNR, by stripping the authority of the citizen-led Natural Resources Board
- It cuts over 65 DNR staff positions vital to safeguarding our land and waters
- It slashes investments to programs that protect our water, land, and forests
- It eliminates public funding for our state park staff
- It increases fees for entering and camping in our state parks
- It shatters partnerships with groups and organizations who work to preserve and enhance conservation
- It cuts DNR forestry staff, in favor of privatization and out-sourcing
- It cuts millions from recycling grants, jeopardizing programs and efforts.
- It stops the PECFA program, cutting clean-up of contamination sites
Finally, If you care about the health of Wisconsin's working families and seniors, this budget makes significant cuts and changes to programs that have been models used around the nation, because of their innovation in helping Wisconsinites and because of the quality of care they produce at a low cost to the individual and state.
Here is a list of ten changes in Walker's budget that will hurt Wisconsin’s working families and seniors:
- It makes low-income adults, who are already struggling to get by, pay even more for BadgerCare coverage
- It limits access to basic health care services to 48 months
- It slashes SeniorCare funding by almost $97 million
- It pushes seniors out of the SeniorCare program
- It eliminates IRIS, a program for people with disabilities
- It limits participation in the Wisconsin Works program from 60 months to 48 months
- It allows for removal of people from Wisconsin Works without notice or reason
- It privatizes the Family Care program and puts the integrity of the program in jeopardy
- It makes it easier for the state to take a widow's money through estate taxes
- It doesn't accept federal Medicaid money to cover more people under BadgerCare for less money The aforementioned health care cuts could be avoided by expanding BadgerCare, which would save the state around $300 million between January 2016 and June 2017
In this budget, Governor Walker makes it clear that he is more distracted by his own ambitions of appealing to Tea Party voters in other states, than articulating a long-term vision of hope for Wisconsin, which should start by cleaning up the mess he has already made over the past four years.
Instead, Walker's Groundhog Day budget once again doubles down on failed schemes and perpetuates a values deficit by choosing campaigns over classrooms, highways over high schools, and borrowing over Bucky. This budget does not reflect the priorities and values of the people of Wisconsin, period.
As I continue to dig through the budget, I will make sure to update you on other provisions and concerns as they arise. If what we have seen at first glimpse is any indication of things to come, I imagine I will have much more to share with you in the coming weeks and months.
Governor Walker's proposed 2015-17 state budget was introduced as Senate Bill 21 (SB) 21 on February 3, 2015, and was referred to the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee (JFC). Since being introduced, there have been strong, bipartisan criticisms expressed over portions of the governor's budget. I will ensure the views of our neighbors are considered as the state budget makes its way to the Wisconsin State Senate for a vote.
Additionally, JFC will be holding public hearings as they review the budget, and will make changes over the coming months, before approving a final version to be voted on by the full Legislature, which typically occurs in June. I am strongly advocating for having one of these committee hearings in the Milwaukee area, so the voices and concerns of our neighbors can be heard. I will be sure to keep you updated as details become available.