In the midst of an ongoing battle between Republican legislators and union members, Gov. Scott Walker spurred a new round of controversy Tuesday with his state budget proposal. Focusing on cuts to local governments and schools, relief from state mandates and public safety reforms, Walker’s budget would close a $3.6 billion gap over the next two years.
In his address from the Capitol, Walker noted the budget would reduce all funds spending by $4.2 billion and decrease the state’s structural deficit by 90 percent — a greater decrease than the last eight budgets presented.
He said the state could no longer rely on accounting gimmicks and tax increases.
“They (previous governors) relied on one-time federal stimulus dollars as if the money would be there forever — but it’s already gone,” Walker said in the address.
Current opposition toward the governor stems from his recent budget repair bill, which would strip unions of most of their collective bargaining rights. Although teachers are largely affected, it did not stop the governor from making numerous changes to the state’s public education programs.
Beginning on July 1, the budget would cut $834 million in state aid to public schools over two years. It would also increase the amount spent on private charter schools, ensuring that more city students are eligible through a heightened enrollment capacity.
Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, issued a statement Tuesday regarding Walker’s proposal. She said Wisconsin teachers and staff agreed to the economic concessions of the governor’s budget repair bill, but his cuts go too far.
“These drastic cuts cannot be absorbed by districts and will have a rippling effect in communities across the state as they deal with unprecedented teacher layoffs, elimination of programs and reduction in standards,” she said in the statement.
School employees across the state echo Bell’s words as they express opinions on the proposed budget.
Esther Frost, an Arcadia high school library media specialist and member of WEAC, said the past number of weeks have divided the rich and poor. She also said Walker declared war on public schools and teachers with his proposed budget and repair bill.
State mandate relief was also part of Walker’s budget. To cut state spending, he proposed an end to the Wisconsin Recycling Law, which requires residents and businesses to recycle banned materials, while ensuring access to a locally run recycling system.
Amber Meyer Smith, director of government relations at Clean Wisconsin, an organization dedicated to environmental protection, said she is afraid many communities will not be able to maintain recycling if the law is revoked.
“It would result in hazardous materials entering landfills,” Smith said. “Recycling is something we all grew up with and taking it away would turn Wisconsin back decades … the state would become one huge landfill.”
Other state mandates Walker aims to reform include eliminating a special requirement for funding libraries and merging the police and fire departments into a single public safety department.
For public safety, the budget would allow for more DNA analysts in the State Crime Laboratory, more staff to investigate child pornography cases and eliminate the state’s early prison release program, which applies to non-violent offenders.
Although there is much dispute over the budget proposal, many continue to support the governor.
Brian Schimming, vice-chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said that Walker is simply fulfilling his campaign promise to fix the state’s broken budget. He said the governor refuses to raise taxes or rely on budget raids to fix Wisconsin’s problems.
Agreeing with Schimming, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), in a written statement, urged the 14 senate Democrats to return to Wisconsin, calling their exit a “media stunt” and reminding them they have a job to do.
“There is no excuse for standing silent in a system we all know is broken,” Fitzgerald said in the statement. “The bill has come due, and now is the time to pay it.”