Wisconsin governor's budget goes far beyond just unions
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The showdown over collective bargaining rights for public employees is just the first step in a contentious debate over how to solve Wisconsin’s budget woes, with newly elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker also seeking to dismantle an array of social policies enacted under his Democratic predecessor.
On the chopping block in Walker’s two-year budget proposal are early release programs for prisoners, in-state college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, mandatory insurance coverage of contraceptives, college financial aid for high school grads who are good citizens and public financing for Supreme Court campaigns.
All were enacted under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle — some after the promise to save the state money, others after years of lobbying from interest groups who now find themselves on the wrong side of Wisconsin’s political power.
Walker’s spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor’s proposed cuts are needed as the state struggles to balance its budget.
“This budget proposal maintains funding for core government services, institutes cost saving reforms and brings the overall cost of government back in line with taxpayer’s ability to pay,” Werwie said.
Republican state Rep. Robin Vos, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, said Wisconsin’s voters “gave us a mandate to turn the ship around.”
The changes sought in Walker’s budget released earlier this month are separate from the proposal in Walker’s emergency budget bill to take away collective bargaining rights, except over salary up to inflation, for nearly all public workers. That proposal motivated all 14 state Senate Democrats to flee to Illinois, where they remained on Tuesday as the Senate met without them. Until at least one comes back, there can be no vote on the collective bargaining bill.
The state faces a $3.6 billion budget shortfall that Walker points to as the rationale for many of the cuts he’s proposing. But not everything he wants to do would save the state money.
Walker wants to repeal an inmate early release program enacted two years ago and revert to a 1999 truth-in-sentencing law he sponsored as an Assembly member that requires prisoners to serve their entire sentence without time taken off for good behavior. Doyle had touted the early release program as a way to both save money and relieve prison crowding.
Walker’s budget plan also would ax a Democratic initiative approved under Doyle that grants in-state college tuition rates to children of illegal immigrants, so long as the students have graduated from a Wisconsin high school and lived in the state for at least three years.
The students also have to sign an affidavit promising to pursue legal residency or citizenship.
Walker is also targeting a high-profile program in which eighth or ninth grade students who sign a pledge to get good grades and be good citizens are guaranteed a place in a Wisconsin college or university and some financial aid. The first students who signed the pledge will begin college this fall and once fully operational there could be more than 70,000 students could be a part of it.