Governor Outlines Plan To Close Wis. Budget Gap

Host Melissa Block talks to NPR's David Schaper. Schaper discusses Gov. Scott Walker's budget address in Wisconsin on Tuesday, which he made before a joint session of the Legislature. His plan cuts $1.5 billion in aid to governments and public schools

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The new Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has announced his budget proposal for the next two years and it goes well beyond his effort to curb collective bargaining rights for most public employees in the state. The budget has deep cuts to state funding for schools, universities and local governments. And while the governor would usually deliver such news to all legislators, Wisconsin's state Senate Democrats remained out of state for the address.

Joining me now is NPR's David Schaper, who watched the address in the chamber in Madison. And, David, after all of the protests and acrimony over the past few weeks, were there any big surprises in what Governor Walker had to say today?

DAVID SCHAPER: Well, the governor has been previewing this fight, suggesting and hinting and dropping all kinds of clues that he would be cutting the budget big. I just think some people might be a little surprised as how big he is cutting the budget.

More than $4 billion will be cut from the allocation of the last couple of years. And schools and local governments are taking it pretty hard in this budget. But this is a governor who campaigned on no tax increases and said again today that this is - the state government must live within its means. It can no longer put some things off. And basically, essentially, just said what he's been saying for the last several weeks. The state is broke and it's time to start training our bills today.

Governor SCOTT WALKER (Republican, Wisconsin): Gone are the segregated fund raids, illegal transfers and accounting gimmicks. Gone are the tax or fee increases. Our state cannot grow if our people are weighed down paying for a larger and larger government, a government that pays its workers unsustainable benefits that are out of line with the private sector. We need a leaner and cleaner state government.

BLOCK: Now, David, as the state Democrats are saying, we are going to stay away and prevent a vote on this so-called budget repair bill, what can they take away from this speech from the governor?

SCHAPER: Well, the governor kind of drew a line in the sand, or since we're in Wisconsin, I should probably say snow. He basically said that he outlined these budget cuts for the next year's budget, the budget repair bill trying to fix this year's budget. And they can't go do anything without these Democrats coming back into the chamber to hold a vote.

And he basically said the, you know, budget cuts are coming and local governments are going to need the tools in order to - the tools that he's laying out in the budget repair bill taking away collective bargaining rights for many public employees and it's basically time to come home.

Gov. WALKER: If the 14 Senate Democrats do not come home, their local communities will be forced to manage these reductions in aid without the benefit of the tools provided in the repair bill. On the other hand, if the senate Democrats do come home, local units of government overall will actually see a net increase in revenue plus savings of more than $150 million.

SCHAPER: As he's been saying all along, you know, the governor basically told the Senate Democrats who are probably watching from afar that he's giving the local governments, the school districts the tools they need to be able to balance the budget in the wake of his significant budget cuts. But they've got to come back so those local governments can have those tools.

Democrats disagree, still, that those are the right tools and remain committed to staying away as long as they can to try to force the governor into a compromise.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's David Schaper reporting from Madison. David, thanks very much.

SCHAPER: Thank you, Melissa.

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