Scott Walker’s Billion Dollar Buffoonery
Walker came out on Monday and made a bold statement that he saved Wisconsin taxpayers $1 billion, mainly through his union busting Act 10. But a careful look at this claim reveals Walker both exaggerated or invented the savings while balancing his budget on the backs of the poor, adding teachers and public servants to the unemployed, imposing a de facto tax on public employees, claiming credit for declining property values, and increasing fees while he claimed to be cutting taxes.
Even the pro-Walker news sources had a hard time with reporting that without jeopardizing the little bit of their remaining credibility (emphasis mine):
Gov. Scott Walker said Monday that his policies had saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $1 billion so far – savings largely achieved by the Republican governor and lawmakers repealing most public workers’ union bargaining and effectively lowering their compensation.
Much of those savings – more than three-quarters of a billion dollars – could be verified, such as state and local workers picking up more of the tab for their health care and pension. But the figures also included a significant amount of savings for local governments that could not be verified.
As is the case of almost all of Walker’s such grandiose claims, it started crumbling almost immediately.
For example, Walker claimed that property taxes dropped like a rock. Funny, my property tax went up by 4.5%. But I digress.
But there is something else funny about this claim. He is saying that the average property value dropped by 0.4%,. What he doesn’t mention is that the average home fell about 2.2% in value for the purposes of property taxes. The translates to a $3,500 drop in value, which would be – wait for it – $11 in tax savings. But at the same time, the Wisconsin property tax levy went up 2.2%.
To make things even more dubious for Walker’s claims, it’s also been reported that an increase in lottery ticket sales accounted for another $4 drop in property taxes.
Walker math makes fuzzy math look clear.
Meanwhile, Walker’s budget did raise taxes on the poorest of the poor:
Last summer, the state Legislature reduced the amount of money low- income families can receive in tax credits by $56.2 million.
That places Wisconsin among only a handful of states that will effectively raise taxes on their poorest residents in 2012, according to a recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit think tank.
“At a time when low-wage workers are already struggling, this makes it that much more difficult (for them) to feed their families and pay their utility bills,” said Jon Peacock with the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, an advocacy group that opposed the changes
When the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau crunched the numbers for Walker’s budget, they found that there was a small dip in taxes. But they also found there was a huge spike in fees:
In summary, the changes included in the Joint Finance Committee’s budget would decrease net taxes by $23,572,000 ($5,135,000 in 2011-12 and -$28,707,000 in 2012-13) and would increase net fees by $111,340,800 ($37,248,900 in 2011-12 and $74,091,900 in 2012-13).
Another problem quickly sprung up for Walker’s claim regarding any savings. The numbers he was using apparently were picked out of the air and had nothing to do with reality: [cont’d]
Gov. Scott Walker and other Republican lawmakers announced Monday that their controversial budget bill curtailing most collective bargaining rights for public workers has thus far saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $1 billion — though their estimates appear somewhat inflated in Sheboygan County.
The $1 billion figure includes an estimated $1.3 million in savings in the City of Sheboygan, where city officials said the money saved under the budget bill was far less, totaling $420,000.
City Administrator Jim Amodeo said the governor’s estimate assumes Sheboygan employees weren’t previously paying any money toward their health insurance when in fact most were paying 8 to 10 percent.
“The savings wasn’t everything the governor’s office said it would be,” Amodeo said.
Other parts of the state were also noticing that Walker’s numbers weren’t matching the ones they actually had to deal with in their budgets. The most telling aspect of Walker’s ideological attack on the working people was clearly laid out by Onalaska Mayor Mike Giese:
Giese said, “Time will tell” whether doing away with most aspects of collective bargaining for union employees will save the city any money in the future. But Giese said the approach Walker has taken to dealing with public employees may end up costing taxpayers in unforeseen ways because experienced employees will leave for greener pastures.
“I feel very strongly that the cost associated with turnover in an organization is surprisingly high. Tenure in the job really does provide increased efficiency,” Giese said. “The pennies we gain aren’t going to offset the dollars we lose in lack of stability and tranquility within our workforce.”
Indeed, that was shown by a recent report from the state’s Department of Public Instruction that shows just how severe a hit the school systems are taking:
The larger than usual cuts to school staff for the 2011-12 school year support projections from the Department of Workforce Development last fall. The majority of staff cuts, more than 60 percent, were among teachers.
• Statewide, 311 of 424 school districts, or 73 percent of districts, reported cutting teachers this year.
• Overall, public schools in Wisconsin are employing 1,446 fewer teachers this year than they did in the 2010-11 school year. This represents a 2.4 percent loss in full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching staff at a time when student enrollment is stable.
• The largest cuts statewide were to school librarians and career and technical education, special education, and reading teachers. For the current school year, there are 414 fewer elementary teachers in public schools, which is a staffing cut of about 2 percent statewide.
An even greater blow to Walker’s claims of prosperity came out on Tuesday, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that Wisconsin suffered the greatest percentage loss of jobs over the last year, most of which came from the public sector:
Wisconsin saw the largest percentage decrease in employment in the nation during the 12 months ending in March, a new report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said.
During that time period, while 27 states and the District of Columbia saw significant job increases, only Wisconsin saw “statistically significant” job losses, the report said.
From March 2011 to March 2012, the state lost 23,900 jobs, for the country’s largest percentage decrease, at 0.9 percent.
Of the 23,900 jobs lost in Wisconsin in that period, 17,900 were from the public sector and 6,000 were from the private sector, according to the BLS.
Wisconsin also had the third-worst employment losses for March compared to the previous month, with 4,500 fewer jobs than it had in February, the report said. Only Ohio and New Jersey were worse, with 9,500 and 8,600 fewer jobs, respectively.
Laughably, Walker tried to focus on the fact that there was a decrease in unemployment. But economists have already pointed out that this only shows that a great number of unemployed Wisconsinites have just simply given up looking for work.
Also supporting Griese’s statement is the fact that the state’s corrections system is so dangerously understaffed that they’ve had to ask the state legislature to authorize another $1.2 million dollars just to cover the overtime overruns.
Now, I realize that all of these facts and figures might not persuade die-hard Walker backers that his claim of saving a billion dollars from the union busting is that much baloney.
But perhaps, just maybe, if someone they know and love and respect says that the union busting saves the state no money, then they might believe it. So, as the last bit of irrefutable proof, I present the one person who should know better than anyone that Walker’s claims are that much poppycock, testify to that fact, under oath, before a congressional panel one year ago:
Now, if they’re not going to believe Walker when he says it’s not going to save any money, who are they gonna believe?
In case you missed it, the key part of the transcript can be found here, including the offer of evidence that Act 10 was a non-fiscal bill and thus had no impact on the budget.
You know the infamous quote by Joseph Goebbels that goes: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
Well, I think Walker just proved that there are limits to even that.