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Budget balancing act swings toward more cuts

By Matt Pommer

The Republican Governors Association is busy demonizing Gov. Jim Doyle as it tries to drive up the negatives on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

The Republican ads blame the two Democrats for the loss of jobs and higher taxes. Doyle offered a mild-mannered response last month when he issued 2011-13 budget preparation directions to state agency heads.

Doyle said the 2008-09 recession was “the worst global and national economic downturn in generations.”

The world financial system was on the edge of collapse, exposing the excesses of Wall Street, wreaking havoc on “homeowners, middle-class families and small businesses.”

The Republican ads seem to suggest Doyle and Barrett are responsible for higher unemployment. But this was not just a Wisconsin downturn. Would your friends have lost their jobs if a Republican had been governor?

More controversial is the balance the 2009-11 state budget struck on spending and taxes. Doyle’s budget instructions note there were major cutbacks in all areas and state workers were furloughed. The state spending reduction was the largest in Wisconsin history, according to Doyle.

The tax increases, part of the budget balancing act, included closing a loophole for multistate corporations and increasing the personal income tax rate for the state’s wealthiest citizens.

“Unlike many states, Wisconsin middle-class families were protected from more drastic actions implemented in other states,” said Doyle. “Tax refunds came in days. School aid payments were made on time, keeping schools open.

“Health care benefits to seniors, the disabled and low income families have been preserved in Wisconsin,” he added. “Many states have made drastic cuts in Medicaid benefits and provider rates.”

Doyle didn’t mention other states by name. But Illinois is struggling to pay its bills. Minnesota income-tax refunds have been delayed. Arizona has sold its Assembly and Senate buildings. California and New York continue to struggle with their budgets. Hawaii has cut several weeks off the school year.

Are these approaches better than higher taxes on multistate corporations and wealthier citizens?

Wisconsin also has resorted to budget balanced games. One of them, taking $200 million from the medical malpractice insurance programs, recently was struck down by the State Supreme Court. Doyle also put social needs ahead of road construction.

Citizens will get an early window into the issue. State agencies are now drafting plans to cut another $641 million in spending for the 2010-11 fiscal year — as mandated by the state budget. Doyle also has directed most state agency budgets for the 2011-13 biennium to prepare to cut another 10 percent of their permanent base.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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