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Walker’s Fiscal Agenda: Yes to Corporations, No to the Middle Class

In a statement announcing his anti-labor efforts two weeks ago, Gov. Scott Walker argued that Wisconsin “must take immediate action to ensure fiscal stability” and that his proposals would “meet the immediate needs of our state and give government the tools to deal with this and future budget crises.” Nevertheless, the Governor's actions in the last month not only demonstrate hypocrisy, but additionally indicate that he places the interests of the affluent over the needs of the middle class. Similar to right-wing officials across the country, Gov. Walker is manipulating fiscal pressures to advance egregious policies that will only serve corporate interests and exacerbate the pain that working families are already experiencing as a result of the downturn.

The Governor's budget proposal aims to address the $137 million revenue shortfall by restructuring the state's debt to in an effort to save $165 million. But his emphasis on eliminating the collective bargaining rights of public employees has nothing to do with Wisconsin's short-term deficit, and rather is a direct assault on workers' rights. Writing in the National Journal, Tim Fernholz appropriately labels Walker’s approach as both "disingenuous" and a "bait and switch."

Furthermore, at a time when Gov. Walker claims that he is taking steps to increase savings, his administration has pursued fiscally irresponsible spending on corporations and special interests. Last month, Gov. Walker and his right-wing allies pushed through almost $140 million in corporate tax breaks and spending that benefits large businesses. The Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now, Scot Ross, commented that he was “handing out [millions] in special interest spending to his corporate pals and he's going to make our children pay for it by taking loans the state was ready to pay off and borrow more money on them."

These actions parallel the general recklessness of Gov. Walker’s fiscal priorities -- much of which has gone overlooked while the national focus has been on his anti-union proposals. Just this week, Wisconsin conservatives successfully advanced a bill to require a two-thirds legislative majority to enact any income, sales, or franchise tax increases. As we have seen in other states, this restrictive policy does little to actually protect taxpayers, but rather will only serve to add unnecessary delay to the budget process while hindering the state’s abilities to respond to economic downturns in a balanced manner.

Gov. Walker also recently signed legislation to replace the state's Commerce Department with a public-private entity. The effort to privatize economic development functions in the state comes at a great cost to taxpayers. As Good Jobs First details in Public-Private Power Grab: The Risks in Privatizing State Economic Development Agencies, “rather than making economic development activities more effective, privatization is often little more than a power grab by governors and politically connected business interests” - a power grab that can lead to misuse of taxpayer dollars, corruption, conflicts of interest, and lost accountability. For instance, Michigan, a state that has a semi-privatized commerce department, distributed $9.1 million in tax credits to a convicted embezzler last year. Generally, privatization comes at the expense of long-term community investments, sustainable budget policy, taxpayer protections, transparency, and public accountability.

Gov. Walker boasts that “Wisconsin Is Open For Business,” but judging by his budget priorities, he does not envision the state open to workers’ rights or fiscal responsibility. It is abundantly clear that Gov. Walker is utilizing current fiscal circumstances to advance a broad and economically-damaging agenda -- a disastrous conservative template for the states -- that supports the interest of the rich and large corporations while threatening the economic security of the middle class.

Full Resources from this Article

Walker’s Fiscal Agenda: Yes to Corporations, No to the Middle Class

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities -A "Super" Bad Idea: Requiring a Two-thirds Legislative Supermajority to Raise Taxes Protects Special Interest Tax Breaks and Gives Budget Veto Power to a Small Minority of Legislators
Good Jobs First -Public-Private Power Grab
The National Journal-Bait and Switch?
Progressive States Network -Rebuilding Prosperity for States and Working Families

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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