Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker appears to gain momentum on his promise to reduce the State’s fiscal budget. But whether his shell game for shuffling the state’s debt will spare local taxpayers remains to be seen.
Governor Walker’s 2011-2013 biennium budget proposal suggests crippling caveats that curb state funds by $96 million in aids for counties, cities, villages and towns. Transportation aids top off at $43 million with a 3 percent cut and recycling grants of $32 million will be eliminated.
According to a March 15 memorandum from Senator Mary Lazich, “The governor’s budget for 2011-13 reduces the state’s structural deficit by 90 percent. Much of the reductions are aid to local government.”
Governor Walker hopes to plug the $137 million hole for this fiscal year and curb the anticipated $3.7 billion deficit for the next biennium. The partial paring of state aids may don a new look in the form of local government referendums or municipal loans, but taxpayers will inevitably pick up the slack “from the reduction of aids to local government” or scale services down to an affordable level.
The March 15 Wheeler Report points to the essential state aids such as shared revenues and how they have been distributed to local governments in the past and how Governor Walker’s budget bill will change it.
The more aids that are reduced to support local government services, the higher the local levy must be to compensate for the loss. However, Walker’s bill freezes this year’s local government levy to last year’s amount. In theory, less aid and no levy increase means less spending.
One town official laments that Wisconsin has gotten itself into a financial mess over the years and with one fell swoop the Governor wants to balance its books on the backs of local governments:
“Our town stands to lose about $85,000 in state aids next year,” says Town of East Troy Chairman Joe Klarkowski. “The state’s spending fiascos have eroded our lifeline by cutting back the resources that our taxpayers pay into, and then the state says that the levy will freeze at last year’s rate. Then they say we can borrow money if we have a shortfall. How are we supposed to pay the loans back with no state aids and no levy increases?”
For the moment, Walker draws public scrutiny to what seems like a left jab to the jaw of public employees, loosening teeth for collective bargaining and jarring morale into a desperate scramble for life support through recalls of elected officials and court injunctions.