Gov. Scott Walker will sign the 2013-15 state budget into law today at a "signing ceremony" in a Pleasant Prairie business that is little more than a campaign event to mark the start of his 2014 re-election campaign as well as serving as a launching pad for his presidential ambitions.
As such, the budget crafted by the governor and the Republican majority in the legislature is not a serious plan for putting Wisconsin back on a trajectory of robust growth and stable finances but is designed to mirror the themes Walker hopes will secure his re-election, including tax cuts, advancing a socially conservative agenda and proclaiming a turnaround.
Because the governor wields an unusually strong veto pen in Wisconsin, it is hard to know how any of Walker's vetoes might shape the final document. However, there are some general trends to note, including:
? The corrupting nature of power and majority rule. Virtually every major decision and negotiation was held behind closed doors in party caucuses or private meetings. This is not a uniquely Republican phenomenon. Democrats used the same tactics when they held the governor's office and majorities in the state house after 2008. Invariably it produces structural deficits, pages of policy matters that do not belong in the budget and vendetta settling, regardless of party.
? Politics over prudent policies. Republicans repeatedly said that changes to collective bargaining laws in the last budget were designed to stop "kicking the can down the road. " This budget shows the emptiness of those words. As it stands, the tax cuts sent to the governor by lawmakers would create a $500 million budget deficit. Here Walker could make best use of his veto powers, but the temptation to campaign on $650 million in tax cuts will be hard to resist.
? The absence of educational priorities. The governor's original budget included no increase in funding for K-12 education. Main Street Republicans fought and won a modest increase in dollars for schools. That good news was marred by the vindictive move to strip the University of Wisconsin System of a funding increase after the revelation of a surplus in the system. Though UW System leaders badly bungled reporting and explaining the surplus, it doesn't mean the state's college campuses are any less vital for building a well-trained job force in areas critical to the state's economy.
? De-vesting in Wisconsin infrastructure. Instead of using historically low interest rates as an opportunity to continue transforming the state's wobbly infrastructure, this budget slashes borrowing and investments in roads and bridges.
No one relishes paying more, but scrimping on infrastructure during the early stages of an economic recovery is a sure fired way to hold back growth.
The Final Thought: State budget is little more than a campaign prop for Gov. Walker.