"I love Milwaukee," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told a reporter a few months back. The right-wing Republican was responding to criticisms that his policies were taking away constitutionally guaranteed local home-rule powers in the City of Milwaukee, as well as funding for the city.
That lovely declaration notwithstanding, Walker just signed his second two-year state budget and it takes tens of millions of dollars more away from the city, while denying it yet more local authority over conducting its own affairs -- because Republicans just love the idea that government nearest the people is the best kind of government, right?
"Love you to death" might have been a more accurate way for Walker to describe his affection for Milwaukee. Wisconsin's greatest economic engine is about to take another round of blows from the power monger who claims to regard it so highly. Growing numbers of voters suspect the Democratic Party bastion is nothing more than a target for Walker and teahadist Republicans in the statehouse.
Head below the fold as we survey the latest Walker-inspired messing with one of America's finest, yet now most spat-upon, cities.
In the new state budget he has just signed, Walker grabs yet more millions from Milwaukee's public school system to fund a broader program of vouchers allowing largely unregulated private schools to enroll former public school pupils. Yes, that's right. He and the Republican legislature remain intent on creating a parallel, statewide private school system that is mostly exempt from public oversight but gobbles up public school tax dollars.
Never mind that studies show no appreciable difference in student achievement at the new, pricey private schools. All well-indoctrinated Republicans know that the private sector is always better than the public sector -- especially in the amounts of campaign donations they respectively generate. Of course, when Wisconsin's public schools get worse as a result of continuing property-tax revenue caps, teacher salary cuts and private voucher funding diversions, Walker and his nattering nabobs promptly will proclaim the necessity of even more tough love.
Next to union-busting, this is modern Wisconsin's main version of "disaster capitalism." And Walker and his party are the guys doing the most to create the disaster. The really sad thing is that Wisconsin's pioneering but horrible experience with private school vouchers is becoming a Republican campaign in other states. If you're a power-hungry elite that wants to dumb down the voters by dumbing down education, look no farther.
Meanwhile, Walker has seized tens of millions of dollars in funds meant to help Milwaukee rid itself of its growing catalog of foreclosed and abandoned homes. The city is still an uncommonly nice place, overall, but several thousand lower-income homeowners and their neighborhoods have been devastated by the Great Recession and especially the mortgage irregularities that drove that crash.
The funds Walker originally diverted from Milwaukee were supposed to go to the city as a result of a national lawsuit settlement against bad-actor mortgage lenders. Walker's latest move, taking away another $3.5 million, will further slow the city's attempt to preserve its most endangered neighborhoods. That will make Milwaukee look a bit more like Detroit, whose local governing powers have now been completely usurped by that state's equally right-wing GOP governor.
You're thus excused if you suspect there's method to Walker's madness. Leaving entire streets with boarded-up homes that the city cannot afford to manage is a surefire recipe for urban decay, higher crime and declining reinvestment. And then, another round of Walker "fixes" that only serve to hurt the community some more. Walker and his pals would be perfectly happy with seeing Milwaukee's slow but steady population growth suddenly reverse, as people move out to suburbs that are already gerrymandered red.
Just to turn the screws a bit tighter, Walker and his cronies also are ending local government rights to require public employees to live within the jurisdiction where they work. This is a statewide move, jammed into the state "budget" although it's clearly a political issue, but it affects the state's largest city much more than any other locality. And it's a sop to the police and firefighters of Milwaukee who supported Walker's campaign.
This power shift -- which Milwaukee may well have to spend money fighting in court -- means more dollars will flow from the city as some or even most public workers move out to sprawling, red-state suburbs, taking their Milwaukee earnings and tax base with them. Thanks ever so much for the love, guv.
And then there's health care. On this issue Walker screwed over the entire state but as usual the worst effects occur in Milwaukee. The federal Affordable Care Act will in theory benefit tens of thousands of lower-income Milwaukeeans currently unable to afford private health insurance, even if they have full-time jobs. Walker, though, is working mightily to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
First, the governor said he would not help the federal government implement the health reform act's private insurance exchanges in Wisconsin. Those exchanges in October will begin making it easier for at-risk people to find reasonably priced coverage. Then Walker whacked BadgerCare, Wisconsin's version of Medicaid, by refusing to accept new federal funds. He also moved to dump tens of thousands of existing users off the BadgerCare roles. Walker (who at one point created a state "Office of Free Market Health Care," which wasn't free and did nothing) pointed those he dumped to the federal health insurance exchanges he hates so much. This way, when the exchanges fail to serve Wisconsin residents because they are still low income and can't afford anything beyond Medicaid, he'll be able to run for the Republican presidential nomination attacking "Obamacare" for problems he has created.
Actually, of course, Walker's moves will mean fewer choices and poorer health for Wisconsin citizens in general and Milwaukee's struggling blue-collar class in particular. But no matter. Those citizens are just chattel to the Walker campaign machine.
The list goes on and on. Among other moves against Milwaukee was one that was also among the sleaziest. Watching out-of-state billboard companies extract big bucks in their communities, both Madison and Milwaukee began assessing billboards as taxable business income property. The billboard companies fought this all the way to the state's Supreme Court, but the conservative majority surprisingly failed them by refusing to declare the new taxing method illegal.
So, the billboard companies got Walker Republicans to insert a special-interest provision among dozens of other purely policy items into the state budget. This measure bans local commercial property taxes on billboards. Result: An estimated $2 million in local tax revenue currently paid statewide annually by billboard owners will disappear, with the lost revenue becoming a burden on other local property taxpayers. And $1.5 million of that lost revenue will hit Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett wrote Walker noting that "this provision will only reduce the tax burden for companies that are primarily based out-of-state while raising property taxes for Milwaukee-based businesses and homeowners." Walker signed the measure anyway.
And while it is not limited to Milwaukee, Walker's pro-life inclinations led him to become another in the nation's growing cabal of ultrasound governors, signing a measure to force all Wisconsin women considering an abortion to undergo, even when not medically necessary, an invasive ultrasound probe. Dr. Walker's prescription: Know thy sin, woman! But we're only doing this to help you stay healthy, and we're sure you'd agree with that, Which is why we're forcing it upon you.
Moral: When Scott Walker comes toward you professing his love, run like hell.
ADDENDUM: What is this fetish Wisconsin Republicans have for being extra-nice to billboard companies? With a hat tip to Democurmudgeon.blogspot.com for the find, this relayed item from the Green Bay Press Gazette:
A provision in the state budget that would change state law concerning billboards affected by state highway projects. The new law would allow sign companies losing signs to highway expansion to put up replacement billboards anywhere within a community, regardless of local ordinances, or otherwise require the community to compensate the sign company for its loss.Highway projects are mandated by the state, but the penalty in the above measure would apply to local communities. Also, the relocated billboards could be any size. Some more limits from the know-it-alls in the state Capitol on what local governments can do. What's next? Billboards on the lawns of public schools? Actually, given where Walker and his Repubs are going, maybe that will become a financial necessity. More here: http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/...
For a pre-budget view of Republican enmity toward his city, posted in March by a Milwaukee historian, visit: http://www.jsonline.com/...