Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An Analysis of Walker's Budget Plan

Well, I've had some time to go over what Walker is planning with his current budget proposals, and I've gotta say, on the whole, I don't like it.

Don't get me wrong. There's some good things in there. There's an end to the residency rule. Great! There's more open enrollment for charter schools and virtual charter schools. Good. Any four-year university can sponsor a charter school. That may spark some new schools on the back of the booming adult-extension-college industry. Outstanding!. There's increased aid to private schools and expansion of school choice into Milwaukee suburbs. Fine by me, though I fear Walker may try to use this to funnel public money to religious schools. How absolutely evil it would be of him to give away money for religious indoctrination after a budget crisis like this! And that's before we even get to the violation of the separation between church and state. No tax-exempt churches should benefit from tax-funded vouchers!

Seems like aid to schools comprises something like 35% of the state expenditures. This from the financial position papers which are available online. All other things the state spends money on are small-potatoes, and cutting them won't make much of a dent. So the bottom line is that schools are just going to have to get cut somewhere, I understand that. But what I fear is that, with an expanded school choice system, whole swaths of inner-city areas will go from having bad schools to no schools at all, both because the budget has been cut beyond the breaking point, and because no teacher would want to work in a high-need school with cut pay, especially in the areas of math and science, where teachers could leave teaching and make up to double or triple the money in the private sector. Yes, that's right. Because teachers really do earn way less than they would in the private sector. We'll have a brain-drain in those schools that need it most.

You see, it's simple supply/demand economics: How do you get someone to be a garbage-man? You pay him a premium! How do you get a worker to clean sewage at MMSD? You pay him a premium! How do you get a public school teacher into the inner city?

You pay a premium!

On top of this is a cut to the UW system, and cutting loose the main UW campus in Madison. Also, beginning plans to cut UWM form the system as well. There went local school tuition rates!

Actually, I have mixed feelings about that. Seems to me that if the main UW schools split from the state and became entirely for-profit schools, that they's have fewer politicians trying to dictate terms to people with five times their education. I'm going to have to explore this idea further.

Finally, there's a $71.6 million dollar cut in the state's technical college system. Oh, boy, is that ever dumb!

The bulk of new, marketable job skills that come into the workforce come from those technical schools. Also, tech schools with adult high schools, like MATC, are the only thing that can bridge the gap between the inevitable dropoff in education from Walker's budget cuts. Hey, MATC has its problems, I'll be the first to admit. And it's bureaucracy can be a headache, but it really is the best bang for the buck in terms of education and a thriving workforce. Slash spending here, and we'll have fewer workers trained for tomorrow.

Now, walker has been granting tax breaks to corporations to lure companies to Wisconsin. No problems there. But with these cuts in education, the companies that end up coming to this state will have nobody to hire. They'll end up importing workers from other states, resulting in very little overall economic gain.

This is stupid.

Okay, here's how I'd try to fix it. I understand some cuts are necessary, but first, let's make sure that inner city high-need areas are not slashed and burned needlessly.

1. Pay cuts for all legislators in Madison, especially the governor's salary. You want cuts? Great. Let's start with you guys!

2. Don't exclude the contributions from police and firefighters. Everybody's bellyaching about how the teachers have been reaping the benefits of not having to contribute to their health or retirement benefits. Fine. But as Mayor Barrett pointed out, more than 60% of the benefits expenses go to police and firefighters. Excluding them from having to contribute shoots the whole system in the foot. We all have to contribute in the private sector. It's wrong for the guy who writes you the ticket for parking while your at work to not have to pay while you do. Plus, that makes that much more in savings which won't have to come out of the hides of our education.

3. Bigger public schools. Ever notice that the biggest MPS schools, like Nicolae, are also the most successful? Oh, Nicolae has it's problems, but generally, for public schools, bigger is better. Small public school facilities out in the middle of high-crime areas are nothing more than tiny bunkers and can offer little support to students. These tiny public schools need to be closed, and bigger inner city schools built and opened. It's a long-term solution, but it needs to be done.

4. Revamp the incentives Walker is trying to use to lure businesses to Wisconsin with. Front and center: giving a two-year waiver on state taxes for those businesses who relocate to Wisconsin. Fine, except there's a provision in that deal that, if a business moves $200,000 worth of employment to Wisconsin, that business qualifies for the waiver as well.

Hang on: $200K? That's IT? That's only ten fast-food jobs, or seven unskilled labor jobs! WTF?

For a pittance, a mega-corporation can get no taxes for two years. Bullshit! Okay, 200,000 actual jobs instead of $200,000 dollars in jobs, now you're talking. I'd give a two year tax break for that. But only a few jobs? Walker's insane if he thinks that will lure any businesses here in any other way except on paper.

5. NO cuts to the tech schools! If we want education to work, then the tech schools, that white knight acting as the only thing standing between the eager poor looking to gain marketable skills and eternal poverty, need to be boosted, not cut! Instead of slashing $71 million, we might consider giving them a $71 million increase to help develop the workers that businesses coming to Wisconsin will need to hire. Plus, highly skilled workers being in our state is something which lures businesses to the state, thus increasing revenue long-term.

In short, I find Walker's budget to be reckless. We need a scalpel, and he's using a chainsaw. He wants to balance the budget by throwing tomorrow's generation away. I find that silly.

I've given the governor a few nicknames. Little Boy Blue, for starters. "Scorched Earth Scotty," comes to mind. Anybody have any others? Because "Slash And Burn Scooter," needs to be reigned in.

There's more, but that's all for now.

Eric

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