The Conservative Case Against Scott Walker’s Budget

Whether it’s because he’s playing to a national stage or advancing costly policies, Gov. Walker’s budget is not truly conservative.

Someone described Governor Scott Walker’s 2015-2017 budget as “conservative” the other day. It’s not. Thankfully, fate and the Wisconsin state legislature have rained on Walker’s scheduled budget victory parade. The Governor is having trouble delivering his plan, and AP reporter Scott Bauer was apparently amused by first term representative Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) proclaiming Walker’s work a “crap budget.

I was a little amused, as well.

Walker’s budget isn’t anything I would label conservative. Nor can I figure out his agenda to move Wisconsin forward in the document. There is plenty of evidence that he is playing to a national stage with this plan instead of keeping Wisconsin first in his mind.

Allow me to present the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s February 2015 Summary. Let’s start on Page 8, Table 2, Summary of Total All Funds Appropriations by Agency.” The first line is “Administration,” and that’s up 33.6 percent. Though there may be corresponding reductions in the remainder of the budget, it’s clear the Governor plans to consolidate power. Page 10 confirms he intends to add 90 full time positions to his administration. But look! Page 11 shows he will be reducing full time positions in our state by 49.9 percent! Look more closely, however, and you’ll see that 35,099.71 positions come from the University of Wisconsin System. Walker’s budget actually adds about four positions to the state payrolls. That’s expanding government and not a conservative stance in reducing state government costs.

We’ve already discovered that one of Walker’s premier programs, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, stumbled out of the gate this year. Were he conservative on this issue and not preoccupied with rewarding campaign donors, Walker would delete the program entirely and saved taxpayers millions.

One of the more controversial proposals in the Governor’s budget is to drug test food stamp recipients. Walker proffered this budget idea in his most recent state election campaign. He wants to “Require DHS to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” Such a waiver has never been granted. Walker’s plan is impossible. It does win the attention of the national press — and the national Republican base, so the idea is included in this Wisconsin budget.

Two other proposals Walker made aren’t considered conservative as they borrow a great deal of money. In general, conservatives aren’t fond of debt. One is a plan to borrow $1.3 billion for roads. While road improvements are important to our state, this amount is to keep the transportation fund plump and not for a specific project. Walker wants to borrow to pay for a new arena in Milwaukee.  

Education is on Governor Walker’s mind, both in his budget proposal and during his undeclared presidential campaign. The Governor’s University of Wisconsin system funding plan didn’t sit too well with legislators. Walker asked not only to reduce funding, but to cut the college system free from government oversight. The legislature wants to keep control of the UW system. Conservatives generally feel they have a right to influence the places where money flows instead of trusting someone else with the funds.

Walker’s also talking up expanding the school choice program in Wisconsin. The Joint Finance Committee agreed, even though the expansion will cost more. While the plan pleases school choice advocates, a strong corner in the national voter base, it does not reward Wisconsin taxpayers.

In this state budget, Walker is telling his constituency to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” I wish it weren’t the case. Wisconsin deserves effective leadership from a governor who makes this great state his or her first priority. A conservative governor would be in the state leading a conservative budget proposal. We have neither.



Cindy Kilkenny holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. She has written columns for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's "Purple Wisconsin." She's mother to three and grandmother to one. She and her husband live in Brookfield.