The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported yesterday that gubernatorial candidate Mark Neumann took a swipe at his opponent Scott Walker for excessive spending. Neumann stood outside Walker's office at the County Building on Wednesday morning "armed with charts and graphs" stating that Walker's budgets for the past 8 years increased spending by 35%. He said this surpassed Doyle's spending increases for the same period, which was only 27%.
Scott Walker said that Neumann failed to remove the "capital budget spending from the operating budget," and that Neumann was rearranging facts first gathered by a liberal advocacy organization called One Wisconsin Now.
The connection between Mark Neumann and One Wisconsin is not a cheap shot by Walker's campaign, but is a matter of fact. Neumann extracted the same talking-points from One Wisconsin Now's website, the same points I refuted last October. Neumann put them out in a snappy press release, and shortly after claimed to be the "real fiscal conservative" in the gubernatorial race. So much for Neumann not going negative, right?
I want to address a few things since there appears to be a lot of confusion about Neumann's criticism of Walker.
First, in terms of sheer mathematical calculation, Neumann's numbers are correct. But he leaves out very important context, and in politics, context is everything. Here is the context numerated by points.
In an effort to jump start a sluggish economy, Walker took out a loan with the federal government through the "Build America Bond" program that condensed three years worth of construction work in a 16 month window. This means that three years worth of spending was allocated to the 2010 capital budget, rather than spreading it out year by year in each capital budget. In order to increase spending without actually increasing spending, Walker required a freeze on capital spending for the 2011 and 2012 capital budgets.
This is no different than somoneone spending a month's worth of grocery money in a single day rather than waiting to spend it incrementally each week at the store. At the end of the month, the total money spent on groceries is the same. Neumann's calculation spans the period 2003-2010 knowing that Walker rolled up three years of spending starting in 2010. This is like Neumann checking your wallet a day after you spent the grocery money and then criticizing you for spending 4 times the amount you would have spent if you shopped each of the four weeks.
If Neumann were honest, he would have removed the capital budget completely since it's a separate matter from the operations budget, or he would have extended his calculations to the year 2012 to reflect a proper spending increase. But the fact it took me this long to explain why context matters, means that any campaign would have a difficult time proving Neumann wrong in a simple press release. Neumann knows this, and that is why he knew his criticism would stick.Second, let's compare apples to apples. In Neumann's media handouts, he compares the budget he helped propose in the 90s with the actual budgets of Scott Walker and Tom Barrett. Neumann's budget isn't really a budget, but a budget amendment that he and some other freshman Congressman put together. And it never actually passed, it was merely a proposed amendment.
If we're going to judge one's fiscal conservatism based strictly upon "proposed budgets", then Walker would be the fiscal conservative of the year since each budget cycle he proposes a 0% property tax levy increase, privatizes jobs in various county departments, and runs a budget surplus each year. This year's budget surplus for Milwaukee County was nearly 10 million.
And third, Walker tapped the Build America Bonds program that offered Milwaukee County a one-time low interest rate for municipalities. It was a fiscally clever idea that will save the county $3 million in the long-run.
We have two fiscally conservative candidates running for governor. It is expected that they will attack each other during the primaries, presumably based upon past records. However, Neumann never had an executive experience negotiating a budget with a partisan board. Neumann's budgetary experience in the U.S. Legislature consisted of signing his name to bills spearheaded by the more senior members of Congress. In fact, Neumann missed the most important budgetary vote of his career so he could go hunting with his 13 year-old son in northern Wisconsin. Perhaps Neumann should walk a bit more softly on Walker's budgeting before we start exploring why his hunting expedition took precedent over the most important budgetary vote since 1933.