Democrats say budget fails state
By Doug Schneider, Green Bay Press-Gazette
Republican Gov. Scott Walker officially declared his candidacy for president Monday, but Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature say he actually kicked off his bid weeks earlier with the release of the state budget.
"It's full of items that are good for the special interests ... but not for the average Wisconsin resident," said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point. "But really what this budget is — is a campaign document for the governor."
Democrats on Monday made the rounds of newspaper editorial boards across the state. They repeated the familiar complaint that the $73 million budget Walker signed into law this weekend is strong in its support of voucher schools and other elements that appeal to constituents on the far right, but weak in terms of aid to public schools and health-care programs.
"It isn't good for any middle-class Wisconsinites," said Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay. He was critical of school aid that he said "barely keeps up with the rate of inflation."
Walker and his supporters insist the budget more than meets the state's needs, and vetoes the governor made will return $44.5 million to the state's general fund in the next two years.
"The budget I signed today again brings real reform to Wisconsin and allows everyone more opportunity for a brighter future," the governor said Sunday.
Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, said some criticism of the budget is "hyperbole" that typically accompanies a partisan issue. But he said many aspects of the budget will benefit taxpayers, including an element that repealed prevailing wage requirements for local governments starting in January 2017, while requiring those governments to pay the federal prevailing wage on projects that are state-funded.
"That's going to save local taxpayers across the state hundreds of millions of dollars," Jacque said of the change, which was part of a budget amendment introduced by Republican Sen. Frank Lasee of Ledgeview.
Shankland — the Assembly minority leader — and Genrich met with the Press-Gazette Media editorial board, and were scheduled to meet with media in Door County. They said there were some positive elements in the budget — Genrich cited a pilot program that would increase access to dental care for certain residents in selected counties, including Brown County. But overall, they panned the document as generally beneficial to corporations and individuals and of little value to almost everyone else.
Democrats on Monday also continued to criticize Walker and legislative Republicans for their efforts to use the budget to change policy, including an attempt by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee on July 2 to gut the state's Open Records Law. Shankland said she plans, possibly this week, to introduce legislation that would close loopholes that allow such 11th-hour proposals to be adopted without subcommittee review.