As Gov. Scott Walker continues to spend time focusing on his presidential bid, Wisconsin is hurting. Since re-election in November, Walker has visited California, Denver, Nashville and New Jersey in search of campaign donors for his presidential bid. He spoke at the Iowa Freedom Summit, and has plans to fundraise in New York, Texas and Florida within the next two months. It comes as no surprise that Walker introduced his 2015-17 budget earlier than he has in the past – he has a primary to focus on. It is outrageous to watch newly-elected officials disregard their duties in pursuit of higher office, but Walker is not the only politician who is guilty of this. Rather, my frustration with Walker is rooted in how his policies are designed exclusively to appeal to the far right, without considering the state of Wisconsin’s best interests.
The cuts to the University of Wisconsin System have been well-publicized and clearly emphasize this point. According to the governor, increased autonomy can make up for this damaging austerity. Recently, the College Republicans furthered this saying it will “make up the loss of those funds and then some.” Ignoring the suspicious lack of empirical evidence, I still don’t understand why autonomy must accompany a $300 million cut. This is just simple rhetoric from the right, and is definitely not what is best for Wisconsin.
This same reckless partisan trend carries over in Walker’s approach toward pre-college education. Walker is now offering unlimited school voucher programs, essentially pushing taxpayer dollars into private schools. He likes to boast this as freedom of choice, a right wing staple, but he ignores its impact on public school funding.
Healthcare provides another example of Walker’s blind partisanship. As a part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government was prepared to completely fund Medicaid for three years and pay 90 percent after that. Walker chose to reject these federal funds, and it cost Wisconsin more than $200 million in the last two years. His rationale was that the federal government might eventually rescind that funding. This is absolutely nonsensical – why would the Obama administration not follow through on its most significant piece of domestic legislation? The Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that if Wisconsin decides to accept the Medicaid funds, the state could save $345 million in the 2015-17 biennial budget. Even though rejection of these funds could crush healthcare in Wisconsin, I doubt Walker will change his mind, as that would contradict his image of Republican fiscal conservatism, or more accurately, Tea Party dogmatism.
Might I add, healthcare and social assistance jobs grew over 30 percent faster in states that accepted Medicaid funds. Collectively, the states that rejected Medicaid expansion have left over 6 million people unnecessarily uninsured. Last year, the situation failed to improve as Walker continued to accuse the federal government of “reneging” on Medicaid payments – Politifact has since found this to be false. For Walker, being strictly anti-Obama is a good talking point in GOP circles, so it’s best to ignore what is right for Wisconsin.
In a final look at the budget, we see even more controversial conservative dogmatism. While I understand that the State constitution mandates a balanced biennial budget, Walker is not concerned how we get there; he hopes to be in the White House and let someone else deal with the problem. Marginally cut taxes, brag about it, ignore looming deficits, claim he balanced the budget. Rinse, repeat. Under Walker, Wisconsin will borrow $1.3 billion in the next two years to cover transportation projects. Further, Walker has proposed delaying over $100 million in payments on state debt. The last two governors have done this too, but that doesn’t take away from it being a fiscally irresponsible decision when interest accrues over time. The Walker administration also wants to suspend merit pay raises for public employees. Walker even wants to cut funds for recycling programs by 50 percent because everything must be cut to avoid raising taxes. This “staunch conservative” even wants to stop the state from land conservation purchases. Even though balancing the budget may cut critical funding to state programs, it bodes well for a Tea Party presidential candidate.
In the face of a budget deficit, Walker must balance the books and it is for certain that tax increases are out of the question – he has a resumé to strengthen. We are in the midst of watching the governor choose partisan appeal over his state’s welfare.
Omer Arain ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political analysis and research and economics.