In recent months, the governor of the state of Wisconsin has taken a good deal of criticism from all sides on his proposed budget. His critics made dire predictions that the proposed budget would result in everything from more crime due to less police protection to shutting down libraries to even the disestablishment of cities like Beloit.The problem stems from a $1.1 billion deficit in the budget passed last year. The expected deficit comes as a result of an economic downturn that caused forty states to miss their budget estimates. Our governor proposed a budget reform bill that would fix the current deficit without raising taxes. It cut spending in almost every area of the budget, excluding elementary and secondary education funding, a program to give the elderly prescription drug benefits, and security provisions to prevent terrorism.
But over sixty percent of the state’s spending goes to local governments. Any reduction in the budget would have to somehow look at reducing state aid to localities in addition to other areas. Governor McCallum’s plan reduced local government budgets by 4%, while reducing state government operations by 11.5%.
His plan did not include any tax increases. The State of Wisconsin already has the fifth highest tax burden in this nation, according to the Tax Foundation. Any increase in taxes would only continue to contribute to the migration of businesses and skilled workers from this state.
Few cared for the plan Governor McCallum presented — anytime that people are asked to get by with less when they previously had more, you can expect complaints. But the governor was open for suggestions on his plan, going throughout the state to forums where he explained the budget and asked for input from state residents, one of which I was able to attend. The governor listened to the concerns of the citizens and assured them that he did not want to see essential municipal services cut back, but some consolidation of local government services might help save money. He invited members of local governments to come to him with suggestions, but encouraged them to cut back as much as possible just as he was doing at the state level. They were all in this together.
Many Democrats have had a field day attacking Governor McCallum’s proposed budget fix. Yet it is interesting to note that not a single Democrat has introduced another alternate bill to fix our current budget deficit. While letting Governor McCallum take the heat for his proposed changes, they stood idly by as their state continued to sink into debt.
The state legislature will ultimately decide what Wisconsin’s budget will look like for the next couple of years. Any corrections or amendments will occur there to ensure that the final act signed by the governor will be the best possible solution for the citizens of this state. Both houses of the Wisconsin legislature have passed versions of the budget repair bill, with legislative conferees meeting last week to come up with a joint bill acceptable to both chambers.
Governor McCallum has been a true leader for this state, tackling tough budget issues even while risking his political fortunes. Now if only Chuck Chvala and the state legislature would put the economic welfare of the state above their own political aspirations and work quickly to push the a budget through.