As with most large budgets, critiquing Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year funding blueprint unveiled last week is a mixed bag.
A good place to start is at the bottom line. Walker’s calls for a 3 percent overall spending increase in the first year and a 2.1 percent rise in the second year are reasonable and in line with the overall state economy.
Walker also followed through on his vow to make state government an active participant in helping create jobs. He is asking for $25 million for a venture capital fund to help startup companies, although some in his own party criticized President Obama for using public money to “pick winners and losers.” Those funds will have to be used prudently. He also wants to add $17 million to promote Wisconsin as a place to do business.
Walker is getting ripped for not helping enough poor people get health care, but that’s not totally fair. He wants to add 280 positions to the Department of Health Services to improve state health programs. He’s also asking for $30 million to fund mental-health programs. His proposal to charge state employees who smoke $50 more a month for health insurance also is warranted.
His proposed $43.3 million to expand veterans programs is also reasonable, and University of Wisconsin officials seem generally pleased with a proposed $181 million increase.
Be ready for a wave of local school referendums for operations if Walker’s proposed 1 percent increase for K-12 education and continued levy limits hold. What further rankles school officials is that the percentage increase in school vouchers is far higher than that, as Walker proposes expanding that option to nine more large school districts. Lawmakers should limit vouchers to only the most desperate cases.
Walker is adamant about lowering taxes, but a larger reserve is preferable to his proposed income tax cut. Besides, the budget shows $188 million in unfunded commitments as well as a structural deficit of $2.6 billion.
His proposal to sell state property such as power plants and even wilderness land has potential pitfalls; with loss of ownership comes loss of control. “Proceed with caution” is the best advice. The same goes for proposed mini deer hunts; the nine-day November season is a strong cultural tradition and economic boon for the north woods.
From an editorial by the Leader-Telegram of Eau Claire, Wis.