It has been two years since Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker came into office in dramatic fashion. With a slim majority in both houses of the state legislature, Walker led a fiscal revolution and a one-man crusade to return fiscal sanity to public employment and open the doors of Wisconsin to business creation.
Despite Wisconsin’s ten electoral votes going for President Obama in November, something miraculous is continuing to unfold in America’s Dairyland. Republicans actually regained control of a state legislature they had lost briefly in April of 2012. They now have a 3-seat advantage in the Senate and a 21-seat majority in the Assembly. Scott Walker now has the tools he needs to continue the “Cheesehead Revolution.” Amazingly, he is up for relection already in 2014. Long before then, however, he will face for the first time a new and much stronger adversary which threatens to derail his aggressive and much-needed reforms and agenda — the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Despite facing a 2012 recall election funded by unions across the nation, in less than a year Walker slew the dragon. In a state dominated by public employee unions just a few short years ago, he turned a $3.6 billion state deficit into a surplus. For the first time since 1996, school tax levies actually decreased, keeping an extra $228 million in Wisconsin taxpayers’ pockets. Walker protected seniors and needy families by investing $1.2 billion in new state funds for a Medicaid program in peril due to the loss of one-time federal stimulus funds and unsustainable program expansions. He balanced the state budget while still offering state employees generous pension plans unheard of in the private sector. He gave school districts the tools to balance their own budgets, and Wisconsin saw new-teacher hires outnumber layoffs and non-renewals by 1,799 positions. The teacher to student ratio in Wisconsin public schools dropped from 15.6 to 13.3.
Walker saved the state $4.8 million in 2010 alone by ending abusive overtime practices which allowed sate employees who call in sick to collect overtime if they work a shift on the exact same day. School districts can now do what is best for education rather than unions, like managing staffing based on merit rather than union seniority. Tens of millions of dollars were saved the state by allowing school districts to shop around for the best deal in health insurance rather than being forced by union contracts to use the significantly more expensive and union-owned WEA Trust. In balancing the budget, Walker paid off $831.7 million of debt left over from the previous Democrat administration, including:
• $235 million to the state’s Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund as a result of an unconstitutional raid by a previous legislature
• $176.5 million Medicaid shortfall
• $58.7 million to Minnesota for income tax collected from Wisconsin residents who work in Minnesota (accruing interest – $4,584/day)
• $20 million to the state Department of Corrections
• $341.8 million in lapses left over by the previous administration
A net loss of nearly 150,000 jobs in the three years prior to Walker taking office has been turned into a 25,411 increase in jobs in 2011 — despite the Obama-ravaged economy. But this is only the beginning. Governor Scott Walker recently hinted at some of the reforms he has in store for the rest of his first term.
On November 19, Walker gave a major speech at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, unveiling new policy initiatives which include decreasing taxes, expanding the school choice voucher program, and tying funding for the University of Wisconsin and technical college systems to how well those schools prepare students to take available and needed jobs in Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, the speech was not carried or even covered live by Wisconsin media.
With the power given to Scott Walker by the significant Republican majority in the state legislature, there is a unique opportunity for ground-breaking legislation. An effort to scale back same-day voter registration is likely to surface. A new mining bill to create good-paying union and non-union jobs — rejected by public employee unions and every Democrat in the legislature the last time around — is also a given. Walker understands that there is no sense in having power if you are not going to use it. Sequels are rarely better than the original, but the new slate of reforms Governor Walker has planned might be one of the exceptions.