Scott Walker signed Wisconsin’s 2013-2015 biennial budget in a warehouse in the far southeast corner of the state on Sunday afternoon. His choice of venue, Catalyst, Inc., a company that makes trade-show display items, could not have been more appropriate.
Even though the nearly 1,400-page bill had already passed both houses of the legislature, Walker still sounded like a salesman pitching his policy wares to potential corporate buyers. Indeed, the second half of his talk seemed to be directed at potential funders for a much-rumored 2016 presidential campaign.
The Catalyst warehouse sits in the shadow of a coal-fired power plant in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, just over the border from Lake County, Illinois. Walker boasted that a $500,000 loan and tax incentives from the state lured the company to cross the border in 2011. Even so, more than 90 percent of the 80-plus employees still live and pay taxes in Illinois.
Wearing a rose-colored tie with rolled-up shirtsleeves, Walker took to the stage packed with veterans and religious school students rattling off the five worn-out budget talking points he’s been pushing since November last year. He began by praising private sector “job creators” and told them they were the big winners in the budget. He went on to describe the business incentives, grants, and state-sponsored workforce development programs tailored to their needs that are contained in the budget.
When it came to education, Walker confused charter schools and the private and religious schools that participate in the voucher programs in Milwaukee and Racine. He said the budget is designed to “prop up and prove our charter school program in Milwaukee and Racine so that it’s financially stable.”
The voucher plan that expands statewide with this budget combines tax breaks for private school tuition with budget allocations for vouchers. It lays the groundwork for two separate and unequal publicly funded education systems in the state: One public school system hamstrung by budget cuts, revenue caps, and increasing demands for accountability and “teacher effectiveness,” and another system comprised of mainly Catholic, Lutheran, and fundamentalist Christian religious schools funded with public money either directly through vouchers or indirectly through massive tax deductions.
The final portion of the speech focused on the “government reforms” that Walker promised to continue to pursue “over and over and over again.” He specifically boasted about the ways in which budget provisions make it easier to kick people off unemployment, Medicare and food stamps programs, climaxing in this statement: “In this country, we celebrate the 4th of July and not the 15th of April because in America, we celebrate our independence from the government, not our dependence on the government.”
That’s a rich irony coming from a man who has spent his entire working life – the past 20 years - dependent on a government paycheck.
Outside the warehouse, a couple dozen protesters held signs and yelled at the Republican faithful as they entered and exited the building. In seeming contradiction to the title of his upcoming memoir, “Unintimidated,” Scott Walker left the premises through a back alley escorted by three state trooper vehicles, avoiding direct contact with those who are vehemently opposed to his policies.
Links to short videos from his speech:
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.