By Kirsten Adshead and Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Gov. Scott Walker revealed a biennial budget proposal Tuesday night that emphasizes economic stimulus, offers middle-class income tax breaks – and, political experts say, goes far in aiding the Republican governor’s future political aspirations.
Walker laid out a $67.999 billion state spending blueprint steeped in conservative principles – his “hand up, not a hand out” speech. He preached a budget he says is aimed at improving government through reforms and helping people “transition from government dependence to true independence.”
“Bottom line—I want more freedom and prosperity for all,” the governor said in a speech before the full – and divided – Legislature.
Two years into an often-contentious first term , pundits see Walker’s second budget address aimed at the conservative base – in Wisconsin and beyond.
“We can speculate about (a presidential run in) 2016, but I would be utterly astonished if he doesn’t run for governor in 2014, so of course he’s thinking of his electoral prospects,” Marquette University political scientist John McAdams said.
And Walker’s budget suggests a “reasonably shrewd and plausible strategy” for re-election, McAdams said.
University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Barry Burden in an email early Wednesday said Walker’s is a budget proposal with an eye on re-election.
“Focusing on jobs and reducing income taxes is smart in several ways,” Burden said. “First, it helps him meet his goals of job creation and reducing the tax burden. This will sit well with the general electorate he will face in November 2014.”
“If he wins that reelection effort, it also helps him as a potential presidential or vice presidential election,” he said. “He will be able to boast to a national audience that he reduced the size of government, lowered taxes, and created jobs. That is red meat for Republican primary and caucus voters.”
Walker’s 2013-15 budget proposal includes:
* $343 million income tax cut for those in the middle and bottom three tax brackets
* $25 million for venture capital
* $475 million in new funds for education, much of which is tied to performance
* $100 million-plus in tax credits for businesses and investors
The first year of the budget represents a nearly $1 billion increase from the current budget year, or about 3 percent.
An initial glance at the proposal likely revealed few, if any, surprises to those who have followed Walker’s tour of Wisconsin over the past few weeks, as the governor has been teasing his budget plans, bit by bit, in almost daily announcements.
Democrats, expressing shock and dismay at each budget initiative announcement, unleashed their ire with the release of the full budget Wednesday. Their indignation began with the document’s reported early release to a select group of reporters (Wisconsin Reporter was not on that invite list, coincidentally) before the minority party had a chance to peruse the proposal.
It seemed every Democrat found something to hate in the budget.
“We really can’t deal with another budget that has gimmicks and sells the middle class short,” said state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine. “I think it’s a good step there’s money for technical colleges, but it comes on the heals of a $72 million cut for technical colleges and jobs training.”
“A true middle-class budget would strengthen our public schools, provide a common-sense plan for health care, ensure more economic security for Wisconsin families and balance any middle-class tax cuts with investments that are important to the middle class,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said in a statement. “This budget incorporate (sic) extreme ideas like statewide vouchers and a charter school board that even Republicans have said are wrong for our state.”
“The policy is pure insanity,” Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar said on WisconsinEye, referring to Walker’s private school voucher proposal which would extend to Superior. “People in Superior… want to use their tax dollars to support public education, not private education.”
Several legislative Republicans, too, have expressed unhappiness with Walker’s plan to expand parental school choice to any school district with at least 4,000 students in which at least two schools received a D or F on state report cards.
Some education officials aren’t pleased with the governor’s proposal to up state aid to schools by 1 percent, without lifting caps on school spending.
And Walker’s rejection last week of federal dollars to expand Medicaid brought a few dozen protesters to the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon.
An hour before Walker’s budget address Wednesday, dozens of people traveled to the Capitol with the Service Employees International Union-funded Wisconsin Jobs Now organization to protest what has been called Walker’s hybrid plan to partially open up Wisconsin’s Medicaid rolls while moving others to the federally-run health care exchanges. Several protesters donned white T-shirts with numbers drawn on representing their position in the waiting list for BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid program. The demonstrators said Walker should have accepted $4.2 billion in additional federal funding and expanded the program in Wisconsin.
Dozens of other demonstrators – many regulars at the daily noontime union jam session otherwise known as the Solidarity Sing Along – sang outside the Assembly halls as Walker delivered his budget address.
Walker won’t need everyone on his side to be re-elected.
“He can write off some constituencies, like, for example, the strong union people,” unhappy with the governor’s previous collective bargaining changes, McAdams said. “He’s done that a long time ago.”
He said Walker just needs to make the GOP base happy and win over independents with a message of fiscal prudence.
Perhaps Walker’s pledge to cut and keep cutting middle earner income taxes beyond his first term in office speaks to his early claim on another run.
“Our middle class tax cut is a down payment on my goal of reducing the tax burden in our state every year I’m in office. I want to cut taxes over and over and over again until we are leading the country in economic recovery,” Walker said.
Contact Adshead at [email protected]