Currently, Wisconsin is experiencing the worst state budget deficit in her history. Since 2004, the state government has increased her expenditures by 25% while preserving less than 1% of its revenue in a “rainy day fund.” Of course, this puts on public display the unprecedented inability of Governor Doyle to restrain unbridled spending habits. With an economic recession in our midst and spend-happy liberals at the helm, irresponsible budgetary planning has honored Wisconsin for placing 4th for the nations’ largest state deficit. Despite Wisconsin's humbling situation, Governor Jim Doyle is currently considering exorbitant projects like High Speed Rail, which not only operates at continual losses, but will also weigh down taxpayers with the burden of operational overhead for years to come. So I find it a little strange that Wisconsin’s state government is telling Scott Walker he needs lessons in matters of county management.
With a little more than a year remaining before Doyle’s reelection, it didn’t take long before he began to play politics. Karen Timberlake, Secretary of State Health Services, announced that the state government will assume control over various public assistance programs because Milwaukee County has “demonstrated a sustained inability to successfully provide services to its poor customers.”
Besides the hypocrisy, the timing is most precious. A week after Walker publicly criticized Doyle’s State of the State Address, the State Health Services reminds Walker just how politically dangerous it might be if he decides to act on any gubernatorial aspirations.
Walker responded to accusations by reminding the state about their serious problem of underfunding. County Supervisor Peggy West echoed similar sentiments by stating, “I wish they would have been more supportive and given us the funding.”
So, what is the state’s solution to this mess? Well, the state will assume control over the Call Center and various assistance programs by installing state managers to oversee operations, but will continue to use the same county case workers.
Walker suggested that if the state desired to control of the programs, they should assume complete control. This way, it would be cheaper for the state to manage the programs due to lower-cost pensions and other benefits. However, it appears that the state would rather experiment with an untested “hybrid model” of management and stick Milwaukee County with the bill rather than saving the County costs. [As an aside, it will be interesting to see if the state assigns additional funding to beef up their food aid and medical programs after taking control.]
Even more interesting is Timberlake’s statement that Milwaukee County has mismanaged the assistance programs for years. If the State Health Services recognized this lowly state of affairs for sometime now, then why didn’t they offer more funding? Were they deliberately withholding funds from Walker? And furthermore, will this political posturing deflect attention from Doyle’s fiscal failures? It's not likely, but only time will tell.