Yes, Rachel Maddow, Scott Walker Balanced Wisconsin Budget Without Raising Taxes

February 18th, 2012 8:54 PM

Liberals love to harp on what they perceive as Republican failure. What they truly loathe is Republican success.

A fine example of this predictable dynamic can be seen in MSNBC's febrile coverage of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his efforts to turn around the Badger State's disastrous finances. (video after page break).

Here's what Rachel Maddow had to say on her show Wednesday night --

In this picture from Wisconsin today (of Walker greeting President Obama) it's not just the president who's running a campaign to stay in office this year. Gov. Scott Walker, Republican of Wisconsin, is facing being recalled from office before the end of his first term thanks to Wisconsin voters angry with that stripping of union rights in the state and his big, big cuts to education and much more. On the pro-Scott Walker side, there are ads running in Wisconsin now against recalling the governor. In these ads, Gov. Walker and groups supporting him frequently describe the governor as having balanced the state's budget. Turns out, he did not balance the state's budget.

This was the headline late last week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 'State Faces $143 million shortfall as tax collections lag.' See, Scott Walker cut taxes and this crazy thing happens when you cut what has to be paid in taxes. Turns out, what people pay in taxes gets cut! So under Scott Walker, tax collections down, big $140 million hole in the Wisconsin state budget, thus jeopardizing his main claim for why he shouldn't be recalled from office, which is that he wants to be able to say he balanced the state budget. Which he didn't.

Turns out, Maddow's "obsessive" devotion to accuracy has lapsed yet again. That $143 million shortfall is projected for the end of fiscal 2013; Wisconsin runs on two-year budget cycles. But this doesn't keep the state from tracking where its finances stand at any given time and -- you guessed it -- Wisconsin currently boasts a surplus.

Stephen F. Hayes at The Weekly Standard puts matters in perspective --

Walker came to office in the Republican wave of 2010. He inherited a mess. Under his profligate predecessor, Jim Doyle, state government had operated almost as a slush fund for public employee unions. Giveaways to teachers and others put the state on an unsustainable fiscal path, so Doyle raised some taxes and threatened to raise others. He raided a state fund set up to cover medical liability, essentially stealing contributions doctors had made to the pooled account. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against that pilfering, but the money had already been spent. Even after budget gimmickry that would make Fannie and Freddie blush, the official deficit was $3.6 billion.

Just over a year later, Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature have nearly eliminated the deficit. For the two-year budget cycle, the state will show a $143 million shortfall because the stagnant economy has resulted in lower tax receipts than had been projected. But the shortfall is for the first half of the cycle; Wisconsin will run a surplus in the current fiscal year. And Walker said last week that he will eliminate the remaining shortfall without raising taxes. It's a credible claim. He reduced the deficit without raising taxes. In fact, one of his first moves upon being sworn in was to cut taxes on businesses. His subsequent reforms have allowed property tax receipts to go down for the first time in years -- by some $47 million.

Maddow complains Walker hasn't reduced Wisconsin's deficit by 100 percent. By her reckoning, he's whittled it by a mere 96 percent -- after cutting taxes and reining in collective bargaining by public workers. No wonder there's a recall election aiming to replace him. Liberals are mortified this might be contagious.

Shortly later, Maddow asked Wisconsin Democrat congresswoman Tammy Baldwin about the $25 billion mortgage settlement/shakedown negotiated by the Obama administration with five major banks, specifically whether Walker could use a portion of Wisconsin's share of the settlement toward its budget. Baldwin tried to hide her answer in a fog of obfuscation --

MADDOW: Does Gov. Walker have the authority to use that mortgage settlement money at his discretion? Can he do whatever he wants with it?

BALDWIN: Well, there's certainly a portion of the settlement funds that is, uh, going through the states but it is my belief, and I'm absolutely outraged by his statement that he's going to use this to plug a hole in his budget.

In other words -- yes, Walker can do this, as can other governors. And it is my belief that Baldwin will reserve her outrage for when Republican governors use settlement money for other purposes, not when fellow Democrats such as Jerry Brown in California do so. The Golden State, not incidentally, is receiving $18 billion of that $25 billion.

This is a retooled version of the $206 billion tobacco company settlement in 1998 when much of the money that flowed to state treasuries was eventually spent on things that nothing to do with damage from smoking.