To Scott Walker on the Budget

Wisconsin Capitol Reflected. Photo by Callen Harty.

Wisconsin Capitol Reflected. Photo by Callen Harty.

2/4/15

Dear Governor Walker,

Once again I must write to you to express my displeasure at your continued dismantling of the Wisconsin I know and love. Just as your initial “budget repair bill” was not about repairing the budget but about destroying unions your proposed 2015-2017 budget is less a budget and more of a blueprint for destroying key aspects of what many of us believe is best about Wisconsin. I understand that for the most part you are following marching orders from your billionaire backers and the advisers who are trying to prop you up as a Presidential candidate, but I must beg you to listen to the citizens of the state that you govern and reconsider much of what you have proposed.

Here are a few of the things that are in your budget that are, to put it simply, just wrong. I hope that you take a moment to consider what true Badgers expect of our leaders and set aside your aspirations long enough to realize that much of what you are proposing will destroy our state as a leader in education and in many other ways.

  • Three hundred million dollar cuts to the University of Wisconsin system. First of all, this cut is proposed due to a projected two billion dollar shortfall. That shortfall is not the fault of the UW system, but is due to your short-sighted policies and previous budgeting exercises, such as two billion dollars in tax cuts that you and the Republican-controlled Legislature passed in the last budget and that interestingly almost matches the amount of our current budget shortfall. The University of Wisconsin in Madison and the satellite UW schools around the state are the cornerstone, along with public education, of Wisconsin’s future. If anything we should be putting more money into education, not less. An uneducated electorate leads to lower-paying jobs and professional flight from the state.
  • Two hundred million dollars to the Milwaukee Bucks through bonds issued by the state in order to build a new arena. Yes, the NBA is threatening to move the professional basketball team from Milwaukee if the team does not build a new arena and yes, the team does generate revenue for Milwaukee hotels, restaurants, merchandisers, and associated businesses. It would be a loss in both revenue and image if the team left the state. However, it is a private enterprise owned by millionaire investors. If they want to invest in a professional basketball team they should expect to shoulder the costs of doing that business along with the profits they reap from it. The amount proposed is two-thirds of the amount you are proposing to cut from the university system. I ask you, which is more important to our future and our image–a professional basketball team or a professional and highly respected university system that educates thousands of future teachers, scientists, and world leaders? I have been following the Bucks since they came to Milwaukee and as much as I love them my money would be on the university system.
  • Borrowing more than a billion dollars for highway improvements. Infrastructure throughout the United States, including Wisconsin, is in desperate need of repair. This includes bridges, power grids, highways, water and sewer systems, dams, and more. We need to find ways to repair these things, but further borrowing when we are already facing a huge budget shortfall is short-sighted and as Republicans have tended to say the past few years is “kicking the can down the road”, leaving the debt to future generations to cover what we are enjoying now. Granted, many of your biggest campaign supporters are highway builders but we cannot afford to pay them with our grandchildren’s nickels and dimes, especially when we are already endangering their futures with your proposed university cuts.
  • Ending the Wisconsin Idea. Your budget proposed changing the law to reword the University’s mission to make it about training workers instead of giving every student a fully-rounded education that teaches them how to think, encourages service, and partners the universities in our system with the communities (and the state) in which they exist. After about a day of mostly negative feedback I see you have already backed off on this proposal. My hope is that you will reconsider other aspects of this budget as well.
  • Expanding school vouchers. Your plan removes the cap on school vouchers. Vouchers are anathema to our long and proud tradition of local control of public schools and should not be expanded any further than they already have been. It takes money away from public schools where it is badly needed. While I understand the Supreme Court has upheld the use of vouchers I also do not believe the state should be paying for parents to send their children to private schools, particularly religious schools. In addition testing has consistently shown that voucher schools do not perform better than public schools, even though one of the arguments for vouchers is that the free market economy competition would elevate standards. Often the vouchers go to parents who would send their children to the private schools anyway, saving the parents money, but taking it away from public schools.
  • Elimination of the Educational Approval Board. This board oversees the authorization of for-profit educational institutions. This part of the budget shows your continued lack of concern for the quality and future of education in our state.
  • Fifteen million dollar cut to Senior Care. This plan was eliminated from one of your previous budgets. It would force seniors to sign up for Medicare Part D and have drugs covered under that plan rather than by the state. While it would save the state money it appears that it may cost seniors more for the same drugs. Along the same lines your continued refusal to accept federal money for Medicaid, despite every other state in the upper Midwest doing so–including other Republican-controlled states–is simply hard-headed stubbornness that is contributing to our budget woes.
  • Cuts to the Educational Communications Board. One source I read quoted two hundred million in cuts and another put it at five hundred million. Either one is close to a death knell for public television and radio in the Badger state. I understand that Republicans have long hated both and believe them to be liberal mouthpieces (which, by the way, is ridiculous), so I understand that cutting funding for public radio and public television will probably gain valuable Tea Party points. But public broadcasting is important to citizens throughout the state. I remember growing up in southwestern Wisconsin the first time I ever heard a symphony was on a public radio station. Wisconsin Public Television has produced consistently quality programming specifically about Wisconsin history and culture. Public television and radio are vital to our cultural heritage and understanding and virtually eliminating them is as mean-spirited as it gets.
  • Cutting almost 450 state jobs. My guess is that the bulk of these are union jobs given your unyielding attacks on Wisconsin unions. While I understand that some of these jobs are currently vacant more than half of them are not, meaning that while you spout off about being a job creator you are willing in your own budget to put over 250 workers out of a job and take their earnings out of circulation. Dozens of the proposed job cuts are Department of Natural Resources researchers. You have repeatedly proven your aversion to science and education, so this is not surprising. However, it is also short-sighted as DNR research is vital in protecting our natural resources and wildlife for future generations. The elimination of dozens of third shift tower guard positions at Wisconsin prisons just seems odd. I’d like to see more information on why that decision was made.
  • Converting the Department of Natural Resources Board to an advisory board. This proposal places more power in the hands of the director of the DNR, a position appointed by the Governor. While current director Cathy Stepp is in step with you on this move she has been a yes woman throughout her tenure with the DNR. This move puts too much power in the hands of a political appointee and allows less meaningful public input on important decisions that affect the future of our environmental heritage. My bet is that despite her words to the contrary Secretary Stepp would value the Board’s opinions about as much as you value citizen input in your decisions–meaning not at all from the evidence I have seen.
  • Cutting property taxes. Why in heck would you cut property taxes at all when we are facing the huge deficit we are facing and when you are cutting jobs and educational funding, especially when the expected benefit to homeowners is a meager $5 per family for a home valued at $150,000? I would gladly pay $5 or $20 more a year if it helped to preserve the quality of our university system. Please raise taxes on me instead of making some of the cuts you are proposing.

Though I don’t expect that you will hear my pleas on this budget any more than you have heard me on any other issue I have written you about I felt it was my duty as a Wisconsin citizen to let you know how I feel and to ask you to reconsider most of the highlights of your proposed budget. I also ask that you focus more on Wisconsin and its issues than on your ego and run for higher office. While I’d prefer not to have you leading my state I sincerely hope your aspirations are crushed so that you don’t destroy my country the way you are destroying my state.

(This letter was e-mailed to Governor Walker today and cc’d to my representatives, Senator Mark Miller and Representative Robb Kahl)

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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