Stephen F. Hayes has a great column about Governor Scott Walker and his budget reforms in the Weekly Standard this week. Here’s a quick excerpt:
Walker came to office in the Republican wave of 2010. He inherited a mess…
But I’ll betcha he won’t be making that excuse a year and a half from now, like some other executives we could name.
Under his profligate predecessor, Jim Doyle, state government had operated almost as a slush fund for public employee unions. Giveaways to teachers and others put the state on an unsustainable fiscal path, so Doyle raised some taxes and threatened to raise others. He raided a state fund set up to cover medical liability, essentially stealing contributions doctors had made to the pooled account. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against that pilfering, but the money had already been spent. Even after budget gimmickry that would make Fannie and Freddie blush, the official deficit was $3.6 billion.
Just over a year later, Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature have nearly eliminated the deficit. For the two-year budget cycle, the state will show a $143 million shortfall because the stagnant economy has resulted in lower tax receipts than had been projected. But the shortfall is for the first half of the cycle; Wisconsin will run a surplus in the current fiscal year. And Walker said last week that he will eliminate the remaining shortfall without raising taxes. It’s a credible claim. He reduced the deficit without raising taxes. In fact, one of his first moves upon being sworn in was to cut taxes on businesses. His subsequent reforms have allowed property tax receipts to go down for the first time in years—by some $47 million.
The recall vote Walker faces comes because of these results.
It’s important to note that Walker didn’t just (almost) balance the budget while bringing taxes down: he changed the structure of budgets in Wisconsin, so budgets – both state and local – will be easier to balance in the future.
It wasn’t so long ago that every state budget was basically a maxed out credit card, with the Legislature making like a frightened college student worrying about the next bill. Not anymore.