15th District candidates both claim to be outsiders
Both Republican Rick Richard and Democrat Tim Cullen positioned themselves as outsiders trying to bring change to Madison.
And they were often close on the issues.
Both oppose the high-speed train between Milwaukee and Madison, for example.
But there were differences as the candidates discussed issues at a forum sponsored by the Janesville Noon Rotary.
Asked about school funding, Richard said that tinkering with the school-aid formula would simply change the winners and losers of school aid.
Richard would expand the school-choice system, allowing parents to spend their tax money on the school of their choice, public or private.
Cullen proposed that school districts with higher unemployment rates get more school aid than those with a better employment picture.
The aid formula is based on property values, Cullen said, so a district with lots of valuable property gets less aid, even though the owners of those houses may not have jobs.
Cullen took issue with Richard’s school-choice stance after the forum.
The Milwaukee school-choice experiment was worthwhile because those schools were performing so poorly, Cullen said.
But Cullen said he hasn’t seen any evidence of educational improvement from the Milwaukee program, and he’d need to see that in order to support expansion.
“I never thought it was needed or necessary in Janesville or any school district I know of in the 15th District,” Cullen said.
Cullen and Richard, both of Janesville Township, are looking to replace Judy Robson, D-Beloit, who is stepping down after 12 years representing most of Rock County and parts of Walworth County in the state Senate.
Both candidates said the economy and jobs are at the top of their agendas.
Both said they want to change the culture of the state Legislature, deflating the extreme posturing in both parties.
Cullen said he could be a voice of experience, calling for more civility. He was a state senator in the 1970s and 80s.
Richard said he wants to move to a part-time Legislature with part-time pay and benefits. Now, he said, politicians spend too much time campaigning rather than making “hard decisions.”
Both had ideas for dealing with a state budget deficit in the $3 billion range.
Richard favors a constitutional amendment to limit spending to 6.5 percent of statewide income each year.
“That will allow us to get through good years and bad years. It also will add to our rain-day fund, which we desperately need,” Richard said.
Richard said he would not cut shared revenue, which is money the state gives to municipalities to help them pay for services.
Richard said afterward that he’d need to see more information about municipalities’ needs before committing to increasing shared-revenue payments.
“From my understanding, they are doing OK on this current budget, on shared revenue,” Richard said. “I’m not sure we can increase it.”
Cullen favors belt-tightening.
“I’m not making any promises to spend more on anything,” he said.
Cullen believes money could be saved on Medicaid. He said some recipients, but not all, are on a managed-care system, such as an HMO.
Cullen would put all recipients on managed care.
“There is no question it will save millions and millions of dollars; I don’t know the number,” Cullen said.