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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

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Transcript: Gov. Walker's budget address


The following is the text of Gov. Scott Walker's budget address delivered Tuesday to a joint session of the Wisconsin State Legislature:

(The full 2011-2013 budget proposal can be found here.)

Each and every one of us gathered in the chamber today hold a diverse set of beliefs – beliefs that we are passionate about sharing - and that serve to guide our actions. Each of us has a vision for a better tomorrow in Wisconsin.

But we all share something in common -- an unrivaled passion for this state and the people who call it home. We all want Wisconsin to be the very best that it can be. Yet, -- because our experiences are unique and our beliefs diverse -- our paths may diverge as we tackle today's challenges. But even at the height of our differences, we can and must keep our promise to people of Wisconsin that they will always come first.

Democracy does not just expect differences, it demands them. It's the manner in which we discuss and resolve those differences that leads to bold solutions and innovative reforms. I ask that we continue to be mindful of our differences – as well our similarities – in the coming days, weeks and months. Above all, let us not lose sight of the fact that we were each elected to represent the people of this state by participating in our democratic process.

I applaud the State Assembly and those in the State Senate who are here today for not losing sight of that.

Over the past few weeks, a great deal of attention has been focused on Wisconsin. That's ok because freedom thrives each time there is a passionate debate in our society. Passion and civility can go hand-in-hand and that's what's on display here in Wisconsin.

But outside observers need to know that there is more to this state as well. Wisconsin is filled with outstanding workers and multi-generational employers. We have tremendous resources and amazing attractions. Most importantly, we have decent people in this state.

The good people of this state come from all walks of life – young and old, urban and rural, Democrat and Republican.

Recently, I learned of yet another story that affirms that sense of decency.

Some of our state employees at the Farm Center spent time with two brothers who jointly operate a dairy farm that was – literally - on the verge of financial collapse. One of the brothers was so stressed that he was considering some horrible options.

The Farm Center staff calmly walked the brothers through a variety options and got them through their immediate crisis. That day, our public employees not only helped someone's life, they may have actually helped save someone's life.

This story says a lot about the people of Wisconsin.

It certainly reinforces the financial strain that so many are experiencing across the state. Without a doubt, it shows the compassion of our people toward their fellow citizens. And it shows the professionalism of our public employees who really care about the people that they serve.

This is why we need to move this process forward and get this state working again.

I have been asked a lot over the past week about what happens next. Well, I'm an optimist. I believe that after our budget repair bill passes, tempers will cool, and we will find a way to continue to work together to help grow our economy. We will position Wisconsin to emerge from this economic downturn stronger than ever, with new opportunities for our workers and our families.

You see, for six weeks we worked together to pass bill after bill to show that Wisconsin is open for business. Most of our legislation received bipartisan support. It is my belief that we will soon get back to that type of cooperation in the Capitol.

We introduced a budget repair bill that is the first step toward addressing the long-term challenges facing our state - while laying the foundation for economic growth. The biennial budget I introduce today is built on the savings supplied by our budget repair bill – legislation, I might add, that we have already modified to address concerns expressed at the public hearing.

We need the savings in the budget repair bill because Wisconsin faces a $3.6 billion deficit. Too many politicians have failed to tell the truth about our financial crisis. They left Wisconsinites in the dark about the extent of our fiscal problems. The facts are clear: Wisconsin is broke and it's time to start paying our bills today – so our kids are not stuck with even bigger bills tomorrow.

This deficit did not appear overnight. Wisconsin got here through a reliance on one-time fixes, accounting gimmicks and tax increases. Previous governors and legislatures from both parties took money from our tobacco settlement. They raided more than a billion dollars from the transportation fund and $200 million from the patients' compensation fund. They increased taxes on the sick and set up shell games to draw down additional federal funds.

They relied on one-time federal stimulus dollars as if the money would be there forever – but it's already gone.

Wisconsin owes Minnesota nearly $60 million and some $200 million to the patient's compensation fund. In short, they governed for the short-term, with an eye only on the next election – not the next generation.

While families across this state were focused on making ends meet, the state government continued to grow well beyond our taxpayers' ability to pay. But the time has come for us to make the tough choices necessary to put our state back on the path to prosperity.

We must work together to bring our spending in line with reality. We were elected --not to make the easy decisions to benefit ourselves -- but to make the difficult ones that will benefit our children and grandchildren.

We need a commitment to the future so our children don't face even more dire consequences than what we face today. Together, we will change the way government works in Wisconsin. We will make it work for the people once again.

I have often repeated references to our state's constitutional lesson, that it is only through frugality and moderation in government that we will see freedom and prosperity for our people.

Our budget holds true to these principles by balancing the $3.6 billion deficit through permanent spending reductions and innovative government reforms.

Specifically, our budget reduces all funds spending by $4.2 billion, or 6.7 percent, and decreases the structural deficit by 90 percent from $2.5 billion to $250 million – the lowest structural deficit in recent history. That's over $2 billion we are saving from future obligations and for future generations.

That's worth repeating. Our budget reduces the structural deficit by 90 percent. In fact, it is lower than the last eight budgets presented by democrats and republicans alike.

Gone are the segregated fund raids, illegal transfers, and accounting gimmicks. Gone are the tax or fee increases. Our state cannot grow if our people are weighed down paying for a larger and larger government. A government that pays its workers unsustainable benefits that are out of line with the private sector. We need a leaner and cleaner state government.

As we decrease spending, we also increase flexibility so local government and state government have the tools to deal with reduced revenue. It's true we are reducing aid to local government by just over one and a quarter billion dollars, but we are providing almost $1.5 billion in savings through our budget repair bill. If the 14 Senate democrats do not come home, their local communities will be forced to manage these reductions in aid without the benefit of the tools provided in the repair bill. On the other hand, if the Senate democrats do come home, local units of government overall will actually see a net increase in revenue plus savings of more than $150 million.

Let me repeat that despite the reductions in our budget, local governments would gain $150 million overall in the next biennium – but only if the Senate is allowed to act.

While aid to local government represents the state's largest expenditure, the state's Medicaid program represents the area of fastest growth. Medicaid costs continue to outstrip growth in general fund revenues. Long-term care expenditures, in particular, are growing much faster than other areas of the budget. Coupled with the use of $1.2 billion in one-time federal funding – the state is facing an unsustainable budget challenge. A challenge in need of a serious and long-term solution.

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Talkbacks

sandstorm | March 3, 2011 at 8:55 a.m. (report)

what was impressive is you never once saw the Koch brother's lips move.

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sijan_heights | March 2, 2011 at 9:14 a.m. (report)

Here's the Cliff Notes version: Lies, Pandering, Posturing ad infinitum

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