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Critics blast Walker raid of home aid

By Matt Pommer

Redirecting money from a national mortgage settlement into the state budget suggests Republicans have a tin ear about Wisconsin’s economic problems.

At issue is part of the money provided by five mega-national banks to help those who have lost their homes to foreclosure or who owe more on their mortgages than the current value of their homes.

Gov. Scott Walker has decided to use $25.6 million of the money coming to Wisconsin to help the state’s financially troubled biennial budget. That budget is facing a projected deficit of $143 million for the biennium, which ends June 30, 2013. Tax revenues are less than expected.

Milwaukee officials say there are at least 6,000 homes in foreclosure and 4,800 have been abandoned in the city. Real estate analysts say 30 percent of the homes on the market in seemingly prosperous Dane County are in the “distressed” category.

The governor’s decision has drawn widespread criticism from the media, property owners and religious organizations. No one is saying the governor made a wise decision.

WISDOM, an umbrella organization of 10 religious groups, including 145 congregations and 17 denominations, was most outspoken.

It called using the money for state budget woes rather than homeowners in need was “outrageous and immoral.” Several hundred families could have been helped by the $25.6 million, according to the group.

The Racine Journal Times editorially criticized the governor’s claim that the bad housing economy has hurt the state’s tax revenues. The Sheboygan Press noted Walker is doing what other governors have done, actions Walker has criticized. It is wrong to divert money “from those who need it the most,” and the action will “only prolong the state’s decline in tax revenues.”

Wisconsin Property Taxpayers Inc. objected to Walker’s move, saying the proper use of the money would be “relief for homeowners who were misled into foreclosures due to deliberate and/or questionable banking errors.”

Walker’s decision and the resulting criticism will increase public focus on the state’s budget. The governor said he won’t propose a budget-review bill for the Legislature to consider this spring.

With a recall in his future, the governor doesn’t want to reopen spending and taxing decisions.

It might seem those who are losing their homes would be angry and would vote in the upcoming recall. But they may not be able to unless they have a photo ID to show where they now live. Republicans enacted the photo ID voting law, they said, to prevent fraud.

Some of the foreclosure victims may find they have neither a home nor a vote.

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

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