GOP “No” Votes Show Just How Bad the Budget Really Is

When the final vote in the Assembly on the 2015-2017 state budget was taken, eleven Republican members – all of them in competitive districts despite heavy gerrymandering – voted no.  As an editorial in the central Wisconsin Gannett newspapers observed, “[T]he Wisconsin GOP is playing a bit of defense with these votes,” calling the move “bogus political posturing.”  It’s apparent that Republican leaders know that the people of Wisconsin don’t want this budget – but they passed it anyway.

It’s no wonder that GOP legislative leaders apparently believe their budget is politically toxic.  I know my office received a heavy volume of constituent contact on the budget, and nearly all of it was negative.  This budget includes a $250 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System. It continues the draconian cuts to our struggling public school districts from the Governor's previous budgets.  It makes radical changes to successful programs for the elderly and disabled, damages programs that protect our natural resources, and fails to address our state’s crumbling transportation infrastructure.  The list of unpopular provisions in this budget just goes on and on.

My Senate Democratic colleagues and I offered amendments that would have reversed the deeply damaging cuts this budget makes to the University of Wisconsin.  We would have invested millions of additional dollars in our public school children, our state's future workforce, by restoring public school funding to the level we had five years ago.  We tried to reverse the attack on Wisconsin’s conservation heritage by returning funding for the Stewardship Program and DNR scientists.  We advanced proposals that would have helped repair our state’s dismal performance on job creation and build Wisconsin’s economy.  And we tried to reverse the proposal to cut wages for Wisconsin workers and outsource construction jobs to out-of-state companies.  Republican legislators rejected every one of our amendments.

The 11 Republican members of the Assembly could have done as we did, and actually tried to undo some of the harmful provisions this budget will inflict on our state.  Instead they took a politically expedient vote in an attempt to wash their hands of any responsibility for this budget, knowing it would pass regardless of their votes.

It’s important to remember that the extremely damaging provisions in this budget weren’t necessary to cope with the fallout of a global economic crisis like the Great Recession of 2009.  Governor Walker and GOP legislators created a $2.2 billion budget deficit by doling out expensive tax giveaways to corporations and by refusing to take back our federal tax dollars that would strengthen our state's health care programs, a move that would have saved taxpayers $360 million in this budget alone.  Now everything from our world-class university system to our pristine natural resources are being cannibalized to pay for their choices.  And despite claims that this budget is balanced, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the proposal passed by the Legislature creates nearly a half billion dollar structural deficit.

So if the people of Wisconsin don’t want this budget, who does?  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Governor Walker signed the budget the day before finally making a formal announcement that he’s running for the GOP presidential nomination.  The radical provisions in the budget may not be making the Governor more popular here at home, but apparently they are designed to build his credibility with far-right national campaign contributors, as well as with Tea Party conservatives who will decide the outcome of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

The politically expedient votes of 11 Assembly members notwithstanding, the sad fact is that Legislative Republicans have sold out our state to further Governor Walker’s presidential ambitions, and now the people of Wisconsin will pay the price.