More than 1 million Wisconsin residents signed petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Since then, even more people have questioned the governor’s motives. They aren’t happy with many of the Walker-approved bills the Republican Legislature passed recently. They’re concerned because some of these new laws relax or repeal Wisconsin’s environmental protections, tenant rights and consumer protections.
Then there’s the Assembly version of the mining bill, which eliminates recourse to citizens whose land or water is contaminated. This bill also would reduce the amount of money mining companies have to pay communities to repair damage and cover other costs related to mining operations.
Despite all this, there are many people who still support Walker and the Republicans passing these bills. What are their reasons? They say it’s because he didn’t increase taxes, he balanced the budget, eliminated the deficit, and improved our economy. However, a closer look reveals the weakness of these arguments.
As for property taxes, many people who saw a slight decrease fail to consider that the market value of their homes has in many cases gone down, reducing their assessment. In fact, some property taxes went up. And lower-income citizens, those who can least afford it, will now pay more taxes because the Walker administration and the Republican Legislature eliminated the earned income and homestead tax credits. Meanwhile, many of the biggest contributors to Republican campaigns will pay less.
Most people aren’t aware that Wisconsin’s Constitution mandates a balanced budget.
Former Gov. Jim Doyle balanced it, as have governors before him. Yet Walker makes it sound like a big deal. The same way he proudly announced that he’d repealed the cap on expansion of the Family Care program, while failing to mention the federal government ordered the state to do it.
On his 2010 campaign website, Walker stated, “I promise to require the use of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to balance every state budget, just as we require every local government and school district to do.”
He called Doyle a liar for using the cash accounting method to make the budget appear balanced. However, after he was elected, Walker did the same thing.
GAAP is an accounting method used by corporations, smaller businesses and local governments. Despite chastising Doyle for it, Walker used the cash accounting method, instead of the GAAP, when he told us he’d balanced the budget and eliminated the deficit. With this method, expenses that occur in one fiscal year are pushed into the next year, creating an artificial surplus. Guess what? The budget isn’t balanced.
So how about the deficit? On Jan. 11, Bob Lang, director of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, sent a letter to Assemblyman Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee. Lang stated: “In the Budget in Brief that accompanied the Governor’s 2011-2013 budget message, the administration projected that the GAAP deficit for the state will be $2.99 billion in 2011-12 and $3.02 billion in 2012-13.”
The governor’s own projections show that the deficit wasn’t close to being eliminated.
So, is the state’s economy improving under Walker? Not according to most indicators. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, which regularly forecasts states’ growth, released its latest findings in February. It reported, “Forty-four state coincident indexes are projected to grow over the next six months, while six are projected to decrease.” Wisconsin is among the bottom six.
Coincident indexes are measurements of several current economic conditions investors use to judge an economy’s health. It’s a sobering fact that, along with only five other states, Wisconsin’s economy is likely to get worse. In addition, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Wisconsin has lost more private sector jobs from July to December than any other state in the union.
Despite this evidence, the governor continues to claim his policies are working. Anyone who does the research knows this isn’t true. Yet some still cling to the myths and distortions that Walker and his media advisors publish as facts.
There are millions of out-of-state dollars supporting Walker. Those dollars pay for, among other things, advertising that perpetuates these myths — myths that many people continue to believe.
What can we do? For a start, we can take responsibility and educate ourselves so we’re able to determine the difference between facts and press releases that are meant to deceive us. That’s not easy. But unless we make an effort, we’re destined to be governed by those who work for interests other than our own.
Pat Nash has worked as a freelance writer, farmer, human resource manager, customer service supervisor and educator.