Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Is Opposing the Stimulus Locally Just a Political Strategy?

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Milwaukee.

On Saturday, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal explaining his opposition to the stimulus bill.

"Recently, a firestorm ignited in Wisconsin when I, as Milwaukee County executive, refused to submit a wish list to Gov. Jim Doyle for items in the federal "stimulus" package.

Gov. Doyle -- like other politicians -- had lined up at the federal trough begging for billions in "free money" to cover budget deficits and to fuel new spending. He and others simply couldn't understand and were outraged that I didn't join them, and that I didn't relent even after the president signed the stimulus bill into law."

In his State of the County Address last month, Walker said that the stimulus money should be used for suspending Wisconsin’s 5% sales tax for the rest of the year - which he claimed would save the typical Wisconsin family $3,000 for 2009 (although state and federal figures demonstrate it would be closer to $600).

A firestorm did ignite. Local businesses hoping for stimulus assistance cited the economic advantages of the bill, including spending on much needed waterway projects. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said “While those proposals could have some effect on consumer spending, the better use of stimulus money is on projects that put people to work.” And letters to the editor of the newspaper rushed in, accusing Walker of bad ideas, and being a "one-trick pony" (his one trick being tax-cuts).

So Walker wrote his Wall Street Journal piece in part as a rebuttal to such arguments. On the issue of public works projects, for example, he writes, "While the stimulus package might create a few construction jobs, the federal money will run out and those workers will lose their jobs."

You might be thinking that Walker either failed Economics 101 or never took the course (and you may very well be right) but there is another glaring factor. As Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett pointed out "I think he's getting ready to run for governor, that's what it was."

In fact, Walker raised over $272,000 in the final months of 2008 (more than twice what he raised in the 6 months prior) bringing his cash-on-hand to over $360,000. Recently he made a trip to Washington DC for a fundraiser with Wisconsin’s Republican Congressional Delegation. His next County Executive race would not be until 2012.

In addition, he has been increasing his attacks on Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Jim Doyle. In his editorial he wrote:

"Wisconsin is afflicted with fiscal woes. In every budget he has signed, Gov. Doyle postponed difficult decisions using accounting gimmicks and excessive bonding to pay for ongoing operational costs. The most egregious example is the damage done to the transportation fund over the past six years, which uses state gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to fund road projects. The governor has raided the segregated fund for a total of $1.2 billion to cover ongoing operational costs for government programs. He's partially replaced the raided funds with $865.5 million in bonds."

And yet Wisconsinites generally support the stimulus plan that he is so vehemently against.

So what are the political motives for Walker to oppose the stimulus?

In 2006 Walker sent out letters to supporters indicating his wishes to run for governor. But after the Wisconsin GOP indicated they did not want a primary - and that Congressman Mark Green was their best shot - Walker ended a short-lived candidacy.

For 2010 he may have to compete with such Republican names as former Congressman Mark Neumann, businessman Mark Todd, and former State GOP Chair Rick Graber, who has recently returned from an ambassadorship to the Czech Republic. Whether facing them in a primary or an inner-party battle, Walker will want to portray himself as the most fiscally conservative. He will not want to repeat what happened last time.

Despite what his own constituents may think about the stimulus, Walker has to oppose it. After all, he hopes Milwaukee County is just a stepping stone for him.

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