Democrats have hammered Wisconsin governor Scott Walker over the past year for cutting nearly one billion dollars in state aid to school districts as part of his plan to close the state's $3.6 billion deficit. Democratic anger with Walker's budget cuts is a huge reason why Walker is facing a recall election on June 5. But the two leading Democrats vying to replace Walker, Dane county executive Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, were unwilling to say Wednesday night how they would have balanced the budget or even how much they would have cut from the state's education budget.
“Education is the top funding priority for the state budget," Falk said at a Democratic candidate forum in Madison on Wednesday night. “I do not support public dollars for private school vouchers.”
But when asked how much state aid to local school districts should have been cut in last year's budget, Falk told THE WEEKLY STANDARD: "Well, nobody's going to answer that, needless to say. But I have a track record as county executive what I've done, which was shared sacrifice."
During follow-up questioning, Falk refused to give even a ballpark figure of how much education funding she would have cut:
TWS: Did Governor Walker cut too much on education in state aid to local schools?
FALK: Yeah, he did. He did it by giving big tax breaks and that's the biggest cut in education. I would not have made those choices.
TWS: And he cut $930 million [in state aid to school districts]. Would you have cut $500 million--more or less than that?
FALK: No, I'm not answering. None of us will answer that question.
TWS: But why not? Why is that not a fair question?
FALK: Because there's many other things in the budget. Look at my record by what I did as county executive.
TWS: But that's a major part of the Democratic campaign against Governor Walker--that he cut too much from education, right?
FALK: Because he gave tax breaks to corporations. I gave an example of what I would do.
TWS: You'd undo those tax breaks and put them toward education? But would you put any other money back toward education?
FALK: That's where I would start.
According to Wisconsin's Legislative Fiscal bureau, Walker's business tax cuts added a little over over $100 million to the deficit--about 3 percent of the state's $3.6 billion biennial budget deficit. But what about the other 97 percent of the budget deficit?
Although he was asked three separate times what he would have done differently, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, like Falk, wouldn't get into specifics:
TWS: How would Democrats have balanced the budget differently than Governor Walker did--to fill that $3.6 billion gap?
BARRETT: I think the key here is when he went after collective bargaining, he had the support of people in the state to have public employees pay more toward their pension and toward their health care--70 to 75 percent of the state. Major labor leaders agreed to that. If he had stopped there--but it's sort of like a grade school fight...They were on the ground. They were crying uncle. And he didn't stop. He kicked them while they were down. That's what's created this. That's what's created this. He violated the fundamental fairness of this state. Because he hadn't campaigned on requiring public employees to pay more. That's not what he did. This was always a Trojan Horse. This was divide and conquer. This whole thing is an ideological war against collective bargaining. I think fundamentally he wants to divide the state, make it a right to work state.
TWS: And Governor Walker cut about $930 million in state aid to local schools.... Would you have cut any less or more?
BARRETT: I would not have started out by having corporate tax cuts. That's what he started out doing. Those corporate tax cuts are going to explode in the out-years. So I think he came in and said, we have to have these corporate tax cuts. And then he said we have a deficit. First of all, I didn't buy the fact that we had a deficit. But how could you start out with corporate tax cuts and then say we have a deficit? Why don't you say that and skip the corporate tax cuts?
Pressed a third time, Barrett said he was moving on to talk to Democrats lining up to meet him. "These are voters," Barrett said. "You can't vote for me."