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Walker: Policies paying off

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Gazette staff
April 24, 2012

Gov. Scott Walker said Monday that his policies had saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $1 billion so far—a claim that could be largely but not entirely verified through figures released by the governor.


The savings largely come from changes made by the Republican governor to lower the take-home pay of public workers after he and Republican lawmakers had repealed most of those workers' union bargaining last year.


Big chunks of the savings Walker announced—more than $750 million—could be verified, such as those from state and local workers' higher pension contributions.


But the figures also clearly included savings for local governments that came from media reports that couldn't be easily verified as well as savings that would go in part to federal taxpayers.


Walker said little about the fact that local governments' savings were offset by cuts in state aid.


"We made the tough decisions necessary to ensure our children and grandchildren were not buried under a mountain of economically crippling debt. While some states implemented massive tax increases and others laid off thousands of public employees, we chose a better way," Walker said in a statement.


Rep. Joe Knilans, R-Janesville, issued a statement supporting Walker.


"For the first time in 10 years, property taxes for the median-value homeowner went down throughout the state. Property owners in Janesville saw tax increases, but those increases were limited by the governor's budget," Knilans said.


"Janesville was not able to utilize the tools other communities put in place because Janesville's contract with the teachers will not be renegotiated until next year," Knilans said.


Walker in his news release said the $1 billion was documented through "hundreds of media reports, local budgets and surveys of local government officials throughout the state. These results show that the total savings exceeded reductions in state aid."


Part of the $1 billion was $2.9 million saved by Rock County government, according to Walker's website, reforms.wi.gov. That figure came from "media reports," according to the website.


That's not the full picture, however, according to the county.


The savings from employee pension payments was actually $2.65 million, said Randy Terronez, assistant to the county administrator, while cuts in state aid were about $2.57 million.


The net benefit to the county's $77 million budget was $78,129, according to county figures.


County property tax payers did not benefit, even in a small way, because the county was already taxing to the maximum allowed, Terronez said.


At the same time, the county's services took a hit. The county cut the full-time equivalent of 13 workers to balance its budget, Terronez said.


The county child-support office laid off several workers after the state cut $301,711 in child-support aid, Terronez said. The office is tasked with collecting money from parents who haven't made child-support payments.


State aid cuts did help the state balance its own budget, which was in trouble before Walker took office last year.


Walker faced a projected shortfall of more than $3 billion over the two-year budget starting in July 2011. Walker dealt with that by focusing largely on spending cuts rather than tax increases, with roughly $1.3 billion in cuts over two years for schools, local governments, universities and technical colleges in the state. He and GOP lawmakers also put tight limits on local officials' ability to raise property taxes.


To help local officials absorb those cuts, Republicans repealed collective bargaining for most public employees and required those workers to pay at least 12 percent of their health benefits premiums and 5.9 percent of their salary toward their pension benefits. According to the Legislature's nonpartisan budget office, that reduced the take-home pay of the average state worker making $50,000 a year by $4,228, or 8.5 percent, though the effect was cushioned by the fact that Walker didn't renew the practice of unpaid furlough days for state workers.


Those changes were applied to all public workers except local police officers, State Patrol troopers, firefighters and transit workers.


Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, one of Walker's Democratic opponents, said the governor's budget has been disastrous for education and state health care programs.


"Governor Walker's budget has failed us miserably," she told reporters Monday on a conference call. "That's why he's being recalled."


The Democratic Party and the Democratic gubernatorial candidates vying in a primary on May 8 did not immediately respond to Walker's claim of a $1 billion in savings. Cuts passed by Walker include:


-- $226.3 million in annual savings from higher pension contributions from state workers and $82.4 million in savings from state workers paying more for their health insurance. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said it verified this figure, but it included $40.9 million in savings coming from federal taxpayers, not state taxpayers.


-- $464 million in yearly savings from local government workers paying more for their pensions. Those savings also are verified but could include other sources besides those coming from state taxpayers.


-- $65 million in savings this fiscal year from a requirement that the state finds an additional 5 percent in savings by redesigning its health plan. Those savings are verified.


-- $300 million in savings that the Walker administration estimated comes from making local employees pay more for their health care. These figures are more difficult to verify. That's because local governments in some cases were already making employees pay health care premiums at the levels mandated by Walker and GOP lawmakers.


GOVERNOR CITES SAVINGS

Gov. Scott Walker said Monday his policies have saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $1 billion so far, including $9.16 million in Rock County and $5.31 million in Walworth County.


Local savings listed on reforms.wi.gov are:
Rock County

Beloit School District—Taxpayers are saving $2.51 million due to Act 10 reforms, according to media reports.


Town of Beloit—Taxpayers are saving $37,000 due to pension payments from employees* according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and $48,360 due to health plan savings, according to a Beloit Daily News report.


Beloit Turner School District—Taxpayers are saving $426,300 due to pension payments from employees.*


Blackhawk Technical College—Taxpayers are saving $168,400 due to pension payments from employees.*


Clinton School District—Taxpayers are saving $361,700 due to pension payments from employees.*


Edgerton School District—Taxpayers are saving $588,400 due to pension payments* from employees, as well as $500,000 due to health plan savings.


Evansville School District—Taxpayers are saving $654,900 due to Act 10 reforms, according to media reports.


Milton School District—Taxpayers are saving $1.10 million due to Act 10 reforms, according to media reports.


Parkview School District—Taxpayers are saving $365,200 due to pension payments from employees.*


Rock County—Taxpayers are saving are $2.90 million due to Act 10 reforms according to a Beloit Daily News report.


Walworth County

Big Foot UHS —Taxpayers are saving $165,800 due to pension payments from employees.*


Delavan-Darien School District—Taxpayers are saving $740,200 due to pension payments from employees.*


East Troy School District—Taxpayers are saving $542,400 due to pension payments from employees.*


Elkhorn Area School District—Taxpayers are saving $920,300 due to pension payments from employees.*


Fontana J8 School District—Taxpayers are saving $93,000 due to pension payments from employees.*


Geneva J4 School District—Taxpayers are saving $52,400 due to pension payments from employees.*


Genoa City J2 School District—Taxpayers are saving $170,900 due to pension payments from employees.*


Lake Geneva J1 School District—Taxpayers are saving $592,500 due to pension payments from employees.*


Lake Geneva-Genoa City UHS—Taxpayers are saving $496,300 due to pension payments from employees.*


Linn J4 School District—Taxpayers are saving $51,400 due to pension payments from employees.*


Linn J6 School District—Taxpayers are saving $47,500 due to pension payments from employees.*


Sharon J11 School District—Taxpayers are saving $73,200 due to pension payments from employees.*


Walworth J1 School District—Taxpayers are saving $141,200 due to pension payments from employees.*


Whitewater School District—Taxpayers are saving $1.03 million due to pension payments from employees.*


Williams Bay School District—Taxpayers are saving $191,400 due to pension payments from employees.*


*Figures are derived from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.



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