With an election just a few days away, there are still some undecided voters looking for credible information on the candidates. So I decided to write a voter guide for the gubernatorial election.
And by voter guide, I don't mean the same AFL-CIO "You're too dumb to decide for yourself, so vote Democrat" guide that I recently received in the mail, but a legitimate voter guide that lists key differences between Scott Walker and Tom Barrett.
If you don't want to read the whole thing, feel free to use the headers and skim through it issue by issue.
On the issue of abortion, Scott Walker is decidedly pro-life; he makes no exceptions to the rule because he believes that bad or violent circumstances that antedate conception do not nullify life.
Tom Barrett, however, is pro-choice. Barrett's support for the right of the mother to choose extends into the 9th month of pregnancy; he also supports partial-birth abortion. (Partial-birth abortion is a gruesome procedure that uses a scissors-like instrument to puncture a hole in an unborn baby's head. The medical practitioner uses a vacuum to evacuate the baby's brains causing the skull to collapse for easy removal.)
In 1995 and 2002, Barrett voted against the banning of partial-birth abortion, but in 1997 and 2000, he reversed his stance and supported it. Barrett has not explained why he changed his position four times in five years.
In an open letter, Walker confirmed his position that marriage is between one man and one woman. On a state level, he advocated for a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. On a county level, he challenged the Milwaukee County Board when they attempted to provide health care benefits to the gay partners of county employees.
In 1996, as a member of Congress, Tom Barrett voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. However, in 2006, Barrett reversed his stance. He campaigned against Wisconsin's constitutional amendment barring gay marriage. Barrett's campaign website, it says,
"Tom Barrett supports domestic partnership protections and will work with Fair Wisconsin and the LGBT community to continue advancing and achieving equality."
Scott Walker has been a long-time advocate for School Choice - a program that issues student vouchers to parents living in poor communities. The program provides parents with the freedom to send their children to preferred private schools rather than fall victim to geographical limitations of school districts.
In 2006, Tom Barrett offered support for lifting the cap on voucher schools, but in a recent questionnaire, Barrett changed his position saying couldn't promise an increase in state funding for Choice Schools while Wisconsin continues to have a $3 billion budget shortfall. Of platform issues, this marks the third issue where Barrett has reversed positions.
Walker has been vigilant in his opposition to the high speed rail line connecting Milwaukee to Madison. He made it a primary campaign issue calling it a "boondoggle" and promising to "derail" it if elected governor. Financing the annual operational costs of high speed rail is Walker's chief criticism. It's estimated to cost taxpayers anywhere from $6 to $25 million a year - money that would better spent on roads and bridges that need repair.
Tom Barrett supports high speed rail and has argued that it would provide hundreds of short-term jobs while promoting economic development. Barrett also contends that rail would provide a stimulative effect for businesses located near the rail stations while reducing our dependency on oil. This is one issue, it appears, where Barrett has not changed his position.
Tom Barrett's 67 page jobs proposal can be summed up in one philosophical statement: government must play a vital role in economic development.
Barrett's job plan creates a labyrinth of committees, boards, councils and institutes. He proposes to invest in financial capital, universities, bio-fuels, biomass plants, green buildings, pension funds, minority owned businesses, dairy science, arts and culture, local transportation, qualify of life communities, workforce development programs, and so on. As a consequence, Barrett's investments will increase spending by $1 billion creating more than two dozen state programs.
Barrett's job plan also favors targeted tax cuts for small businesses to a more broad-brushed approach like Walker's plan. Barrett's jobs proposal rewards companies that create jobs in Wisconsin with short-term tax credits.
In order to encourage company start-ups, Walker's plan would eliminate corporate taxes for the first 2 years of a company's operation. And to make Wisconsin a more appealing place to do business, Walker would provide tax credits up to 50% of a company's relocation costs.
Walker would also offer a tax cut for all small businesses that employ 50 or fewer employees. And to ensure that retirees stay in Wisconsin, Walker also supports phasing out the state tax on retirement income. It's a way to keep investment capital in Wisconsin.
Walker does not favor a more targeted tax cut. He believes it would create a "play to pay" environment where government shows favoritism and gets to pick the winners and losers.
Tom Barrett has been mayor of Milwaukee for 6 years, winning reelection in 2008 with nearly 80% of the vote. On the City of Milwaukee website; it says that Barrett made the neighborhood streets safer by strengthening the Police Department. On Barrett's campaign website, it said that Barrett decreased the violent crime rate by 20%, which was the lowest in 20 years. However, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel took exception to the claim.
FBI statistics show that since Barrett has been mayor, violent crime actually increased by 36%. It appears that Barrett's campaign only meant "homicides" when they said "violent crimes" and they "cherry-picked two years of data" rather than the entire six years Barrett has been mayor. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gave Barrett's claim a "pants on fire" rating suggesting that the claim was a deliberate distortion of objective FBI data.
Opensky is a high-tech wireless radio communication system used by the Milwaukee Police and Fire Departments for emergency calls. Since its inception, it has been riddled with problems including faulty equipment, radio dead spots, and a most recent blackout not more than a month ago. There have been already 240 incidents of failure and hundreds of internally filed complaints by MPD officers.
Opensky has not just been a problem in Milwaukee, but in New York and Pennsylvania. In New York, the state government terminated their $2 billion contract with the manufacturers of Opensky due to "unresolved problems" involving faulty equipment and areas of no radio signal. In Pennsylvania, Lancaster County dissolved their contract with manufacturers of Opensky because it failed to meet "minimum acceptable levels of performance and reliability".
Both states scrapped Opensky because it failed to work as designed and put their emergency personnel, (e.g., Police and Fire Departments) in danger via lack of communications during emergencies. Unlike New York and Pennsylvania, Milwaukee has failed to scrap Opensky under the rationale that too much money has been invested into the system. As a consequence, the Milwaukee Police and Fire Department unions have endorsed Mayor Barrett's opponent Scott Walker for governor.
Barrett's campaign website also claims that, as mayor, he redeveloped the Menomonee Valley from a useless wasteland to a thriving commercial center. This shows that Barrett has a good eye for economic development and the initiative to bring jobs into Milwaukee.
However, the Menomonee Valley was not a barren wasteland before 2004. In fact, the Marquette University Sports Complex, Potawatomi Casino, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District facility, and the Miller Park Stadium were booming in Menomonee Valley well before Barrett was elected mayor.
Also, there is little evidence that Tom Barrett was directly responsible for creating jobs in the Menomonee Valley. Most of the larger corporations like Ingeteam, Helios USA, and Talgo followed million dollar subsides from the federal government in forms of tax credits and stimulus funds.
Recent data shows that Milwaukee's job creation record is dismal. According to the Center of Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the city of Milwaukee is "among the worst job creation records of any big city in the U.S. for over a decade". Providing more context, a study by the Institute for Justice concluded that Milwaukee is overloaded with a "complex maze of regulations" preventing many businesses from getting of the ground and kicking businesses when they are down.
A hostile business climate and poor job creation will lead to higher unemployment and more poverty. Milwaukee recently scored the 2nd highest unemployment rate of 50 cites only topping Detroit. And 2009 U.S. Census numbers show that the city of Milwaukee has clambered from the 11th the 4th highest level of poverty in the nation. One cannot claim to be a job creator while having a hostile business climate, the 2nd highest unemployment rate, and the 4th highest poverty rate in the nation.
As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Barrett has raised property taxes every budget cycle in order to balance the city budget. Since Barrett became mayor in 2004, property taxes have risen an average of 3.65% per year, which is slightly above the rate of inflation. However, user fees have doubled during the same period from $40 million to $90 million per year.
Scott Walker's record in Milwaukee County can be summed up as a constant battle with the County Board over property taxes, government spending, and programmatic efficiency.
Starting with the negatives, Scott Walker stumbled on the County Mental Health Complex, which demonstrated poor patient oversight. A Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel investigation into the Mental Health Complex revealed some sexual assaults, episodes of violence, and insufficient supervision. As a corrective action, Walker demoted the head of the Mental Health Complex, John Chianelli. It is not clear how these oversights occurred since a county lawsuit is currently hindering a release of pertinent information.
As positives go, Walker runs a tight ship and has balanced the county budget every year sometimes yielding millions in surpluses. Although county property taxes have increased below the rate of inflation, Walker has vetoed every tax increase proposed by the County Board. Sometimes, however, the County Board has overruled his vetoes.
In the minds of his political opponents, Walker has gutted county government including county transit and the Mental Health Complex, but the county's unfunded liabilities have compromised their fiscal stability making cuts in county employee benefits an evil necessity.
Before Walker was elected, the county was rocked by a massive pension scandal that cost the county $50 million. Due to the 2008 recession and a substantial downturn in the stock market, this unfunded liability now threatens to swallow the county's entire tax revenue. The problem simply cannot be resolved unless serious cuts are made - a solution unions are not apt to accept.
Unfunded pension liabilities aside, Walker has managed the county well. If he's elected governor, he will have left the county in better shape than he found it. In 2009, the Milwaukee County Parks won a national Gold Medal for Excellence from the American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration and the National Recreation and Park Association.
The Mitchell International Airport is breaking passenger records by the month and was rated the best least expensive destination for fall travel last year. The Mitchell Airport is now among the top 30 fastest growing airports in the world. The airport is managed by the County Executive and the County Board.
In 8 years of being the County Executive, Scott Walker reduced the county debt by 10% and the county workforce by 20%. Some say that Walker's claim to the 10% debt reduction is false and that Walker actually increased the debt. But if this were true, Moody's wouldn't have stated that Milwaukee County had prudent budgetary controls, which leads us to the improved county bond rating.
Due to wise fiscal decisions, Milwaukee County's bond rating improved at a time of fiscal unrest throughout the state. For the past 7 years, Wisconsin's bond rating worsened. However, during the same period, Moody's attributed Milwaukee's strong bond rating to "strong management and prudent budgetary controls". For liberals: say what you will about Walker taking a butcher's knife to the budget, but Moody's doesn't lie.