“To deal with the cuts in state aid and the prohibition on raising property taxes, Governor Scott Walker reportedly suggested local governments trim their employees’ health and pension benefits.”
by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
The complete social impact of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-2013 budget and budget repair bills was made glaringly real Saturday during an informational meeting at Parklawn Assembly of God Church.
A panel of state lawmakers and the president of the Milwaukee Public School Board told the gathering of community residents that they must look beyond the obvious effort by the governor to take away state unions’ collective bargaining on their contracts.
Jobs, education, juvenile corrections, residency requirements, healthcare, family childcare, welfare, prescriptions, the poor and the future of public education are all negatively impacted by Walker’s proposed $59.2 billion budget that he unveiled March 1.
During his budget speech last week, Walker said in order to balance the budget and close a reported $3.5 billion budget gap without raising taxes, he is proposing extreme cuts in just about every existing major state program, thus turning upside down every aspect of life for Wisconsinites regardless of color or class status.
The 2011-2013 budget will cut state aid to municipalities, counties and schools by $1 billion and prohibit them from making up the loses by raising property taxes.
To deal with the cuts in state aid and the prohibition on raising property taxes, Walker reportedly suggested local governments trim their employees’ health and pension benefits.
State Rep. Tamara Grigsby, who sits on the powerful Joint Committee on Finance and was instrumental in fashioning an alternative Democratic budget repair proposal (which was rejected by Walker) told the gathering the budget Walker introduced will have a negative impact on a myriad of areas of concern in the community.
Grigsby, who reportedly said the governor is “waging war” on Wisconsin with his budget, said $85 million would be taken from childcare programs.
The legislator noted payment subsidies for childcare providers would be reduced.
Also eliminated is funding for a recently initiated program studying whether people of color are stopped disproportionately by state law enforcement agencies.
Other cuts noted by Grigsby include:
• The elimination of the early prison release program. Also, the closing of Ethan Allen School in Wales and South Oaks Girls School in Union Grove.
As a result, the juvenile offenders in these institutions will be moved to facilities further north, making it more difficult for offenders’ families to see them on a consistent basis
• As many as 70,000 people could lose their health care as the result of a $500 million cut from health care for children, families and seniors
• $15 million eliminated from the Senior Care prescription drug program
• Cuts in childcare funding
• Municipal cuts totaling $98 million, which would impact police and fire protection; as well as the elimination of aid for recycling programs
Grigsby said through the budget, the governor is giving himself the authority to ignore state statutes currently in place. She said Republicans have a huge margin in both the Assembly and state Senate, adding there is no stopgap in place to keep the governor from doing anything he wants.
State Rep. Fred Kessler, who was also on the panel with Grigsby, MPS Board President Michael Bonds, and Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, said of the 60 Republican lawmakers in the Assembly, 25 are new. “They’re like sheep following Walker,” Kessler said.
Perhaps the most dramatic—and some say draconian cuts—is in public education where Walker proposes cuts totaling $834 million in public school aid.
However, the governor is also proposing an increase in aid to private schools involved in the state voucher program.
No state school district will feel the pain of those cuts more than Milwaukee. The proposed cuts in state education funding would mean a loss of $74 million for MPS.
“The governor is attacking the most precious commodity of (our) community—its children,” said MPS Board President Bonds, who added the governor is also eliminating accountability for the choice program.
“The governor doesn’t see anything wrong with depriving (more than) 80,000 kids of resources to be successful,” Bonds added.
Bonds noted the budget shortfall for the district would mean a loss of math teachers, school nurses, and the Children-at-Risk program, to name just a few.
The governor’s budget will further exacerbate the challenges facing the district:
• Eighty-two percent of MPS students live in poverty
• Twenty percent of MPS students are in special education
• The district serves more African American and Latino children than any other district in the state. Many of these students—minority and non-minority—struggle daily with hunger and lack of access to health care.
MPS would see a decrease in the amount of dollars it could tax under the governor’s property tax prohibition by some $50 million.
Most, if not all, of that money could potentially go to the private schools in the voucher (choice) program.
That’s because the governor’s budget calls for the expansion of the choice program by lifting the caps on enrollment and income limits on parents who participate.
“MPS has zero authority over the program (choice),” Bonds told the gathering, adding the school funding flaw in Milwaukee will add to the crisis the district faces.
By funding flaw, Bonds explained voucher expenses are deducted from Milwaukee’s share of state aid. Milwaukee taxpayers would be picking up more of the cost of each voucher student, even though no voucher students can be counted for the purposes of state aid.
“We (would literally) have to raise property taxes for another school district (choice),” Bonds said.
Walker’s education budget would also remove the requirement that MPS teachers reside in the city of Milwaukee. Bonds said if the residency requirement is removed, teachers will move out of the district—with their children. As a result, parents will place their children in districts outside of Milwaukee where adequate educational resources will be.
Before the unveiling of the governor’s budget, Bonds said he was feeling good about the future of MPS. “But now, we’re faced with a major challenge,” Bonds said, adding Walker’s budget bill would set public education back 60 to 70 years.
The board president said the governor’s overall budget plan would make Milwaukee worse than Gary, Indiana or other poorer cities.