Experts: Wisconsin only ‘Republican broke’

By David Ferguson
Sunday, April 10, 2011 11:52 EDT
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According to The Wisconsin State Journal some economists allege that Governor Scott Walker’s budget crisis is a fabrication invented out of whole cloth and predicated on a series of tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. Walker has repeatedly asserted that the state is “broke”, but using the word “broke” they say, is a political tool.

“Wisconsin is Republican broke, but it’s not broke,” said Mordecai Lee, a UW-Milwaukee political science professor and former Democratic state lawmaker. “Broke suggests near bankruptcy.”

Using the word “broke” helps Walker frame the debate around his controversial budget plans on his terms, Lee said, suggesting spending cuts are the only option and any tax increases are out of the question.

One measure of a state’s economic health is its public employee pension system. U-W Madison professor of public policy and applied economics Andrew Reshcovsky says Wisconsin’s is robust. “Wisconsin gets a gold star. We have a strong pension system.” Wisconsin’s neighbor to the south, Illinois, by contrast, has one of the nation’s most beleaguered public pension systems and currently faces a massive shortfall.

Wisconsin’s pension system has more than $80 billon in assets and is expected to cover its obligations made to current workers and retirees, making it one of the “largest and most solvent” pension systems in the country. The percentage of its budget which is already spoken for in prior budges (the “structural deficit”) is currently at 13%, which places Wisconsin well within the national average.

Democratic lawmakers suggest that there are better ways to bring the state’s budget into line than gutting education and health care programs. Walker’s budget proposes more than a billion dollars in cuts to education, which Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha insists is a bad idea. “Education,” he maintains, “is your seed corn.”

Opponents of Governor Walker’s “Budget Repair” bill cite his tax cut laws as evidence that the state is financially better off than Walker’s assessments would lead one to believe. The cuts could deprive the state of $166 million in revenues by the next budget “We weren’t,” said Mordecai Lee, “too broke to do tax cuts for corporations.”

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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