Scott Walker Proposed a Responsible Budget for Milwaukee County

Another Hit-Piece on Walker by Steve Schultze

Today, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel journalist Steve Schultze wrote another hit-piece on Scott Walker regarding his 2010 budget proposal.  There are a lot of claims in the piece, so I will start by giving a synopsis and then provide an examination of the more egregious assertions he makes.

But before I begin, I think it bares mentioning that back in February, Steve Schultze was caught collaborating with the Doyle Administration in an attempt to politicize the takeover Scott Walker's "Call Center".  After a open-records request was made, emails were seized showing that the Department of Human Services openly regarded Schultze as "a sympathetic reporter" for their cause.  In other words, they had a friend at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that would report what they wanted him to say.  I think it's relevant to keep this in mind when reading anything that originates from the pen of Steve Schultze.

Below is a gist of his piece in parts.  I've decided to do it this way because his article lacks good flow and meanders from point to point without predictable direction. 

A Basic Summary of Schultze's Piece on Walker

Benefit Reductions for County Employees

According to Schultze, the bulk of Walker's budget relies on "givebacks" from Milwaukee County Employees.  It is approximated that each county employee will take a payroll hit of $8,000 annually, however it is noted that it will save the Milwaukee County $41 million in costs. 

Interestingly, in this 8 paragraph section, Schultze quotes two sources, both of which oppose Walker.  One source describes Walker's budget as "highly unrealistic" and the other source thought it was appropriate to use expletives when referring to Walker's proposal.  This leads to the question, why didn't Schultze find any advocates of the 2010 budget?  

CRG Promotes Walker's Budget Proposal

As Schultze reported, the Citizens for Responsible Government is promoting Walker's proposal through callings, mailings, and radio ads.  Schultze highlights the fact that this group had successfully spearheaded a recall effort for former County Executive Ament which played a chronological role in how Walker accessed the Executive position. 

Schultze coincidentally mentions that Walker will be speaking at an event hosted by the Citizens of Responsible Government, but refused to meet with "Put People First", which opposes spending cuts on disability programs.     

Misleading Ads by CRG

According to Schultze, the ads by the Citizens of Responsible Government are misleading because they refer to Walker holding the line on spending when Walker's budget proposal actually accelerates spending by 6%. 

(Footnote Comment: Schultze is notorious for finding a way to balance out conservative opinion with an opposing view, but often leaves criticisms of Walker unanswered by proponents.  The result is it produces unbalanced pieces like this one.)

More on Spending Cuts

Schultze sums it up by quoting an advocate for "disability spending" saying that now, more than ever, is the time to preserve safety nets for the needy.  And of course, Schultze doesn't find an opposing point of view that businesses and taxpayers are so cash-strapped right now that they cannot afford to fund every social program at their current levels.     

How Wisconsin Counties Deal with the Recession

Unemployment is nearing 10%, which is the worst rate in over 30 years.  Logic suggests that the higher the unemployment rate, the less government revenue is raised.  This means that municipalities will be forced to reduce the government workforce, cut public employee wages and benefits, curtail social services, and likely raise taxes to solve anticipated shortfalls. 

Tough budget proposals are being enacted by surrounding counties.  Kathleen Falk, the Dane County Executive, is going with the budget theme of "shared sacrifice".  She plans to increase property taxes by almost 8% while reducing the pay of county workers by 5%.  In contrast, Scott Walker is not raising property taxes by one penny and is only proposing a 3% pay reduction.

Manitowoc County Executive Bob Siegelbauer proposed a 5% pay reduction for county employees and said, "I envision there will be layoffs affecting virtually every area of county government".  Again, Walker will not raise taxes.

Brown County Executive Tom Hinz proposed a budget that would cut social programs, cut 13 county employee positions, and raise taxes by 1.5%.  Again, Walker is not cutting social programs, nor is he raising taxes by one penny.

La Crosse County is raising it's tax levy by more than 5% and cutting human services.  Eau Claire County is raising their property tax levy by 3%.  Sauk County is looking for a 3.35% tax increase.  Walworth County is expected to cut county jobs, shift resources, and reduce county spending.   I'm sure you get the point.  Scott Walker isn't the only County Executive proposing cuts in a county budget.

About the Citizens for Responsible Government

Lately, a lot is being said about the CRG.  Liberal bloggers began to mention them first, and now Steve Schultze put them on the front burner by assigning half of his article to highlighting their political activity.  It is true that they launched a successful effort to recall a former Milwaukee County Executive.  It is also true that they are also expending their resources to support Walker's budget proposal.  As a result, liberals are accusing them of jump-starting Walker's gubernatorial campaign.  And they might be right, but it doesn't mean their ads are necessarily wrong.

Schultze points out that the CRG is running ads that claim Walker is holding the line on spending, but he is actually using federal stimulus dollars to increase budget spending by 6%.  Liberal bloggers compare this to Doyle who also used stimulus money to increase budget spending by 6%.  

However, the difference between Walker and Doyle is that Walker is not adding to the deficit.  This is a really important point to remember.  Doyle used stimulus funds to increase spending, but had a bulging deficit of $7 billion.  And instead of reducing government manpower to decrease state overhead, he instead raised a broad array of taxes and fees.  Walker, on the other hand, may increase his spending, but he is not adding to the deficit.  That is a big difference.

Furthermore, the ads by CRG are not misleading.  Walker IS holding the line on spending.   Like I said in my article "Eye on Walker: Lying about the Stimulus," Walker's surge in county spending will not add one dime to a taxpayer's current burden because there is no spending allocated for years 2011 and 2012.  The customary Milwaukee County borrowing will still meet their average annual amount of $30 million.  Walker is simply taking the funds that would have been used at a later date and spending them early in order to create a stimulus effect for the county.  This is really no different than spending a month of grocery money in one day rather than spending it in increments each week.  More spending occurs in the short run, but there is no increased spending longer term.  CRG is right.

Final Thoughts Steve Schultze

Bottom line, everyone is feeling the pinch.  Although the county was devastated by a pension scandal that cost nearly $50 million, Walker's budget proposal still fares better than many of the surrounding counties in terms of preserving services and freezing tax rates.  Instead of creating a news story about the connection between Scott Walker and some grassroots organization, Steve Schultze explain to County residents what an impressive feat it is that Scott Walker can produce a budget that preserves social services like the County EMS program, Disability Aid, the Family Care Program, the Homeless Shelters, and the County Transit system without raising taxes by a single penny.  


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