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A Madison-based group of faith leaders did not find much to like in Tuesday's budget proposal by Gov. Scott Walker.

Instead of expanding health care to the poor or increasing the minimum wage, Walker's approach to low-income Wisconsin residents "is to shame and stigmatize them," said Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice.

"The governor’s speech last night painted a false picture of food stamp recipients as drug-addicted, lazy people who would rather live on government handouts than go to work," the group said in a statement. "Rather than imposing additional barriers to accessing needed services, we should be doing all we can to help raise families out of poverty."

The group has about 300 dues-paying members, many of them clergy members, said Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, the group's president.

The group also faulted Walker for a budget it said "will cause irreparable harm to our public schools and university system."

Below is the entirety of the group's statement:

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"Last night Gov. Walker unveiled his biennium budget proposal, and once again it fails to reflect the values of the people of Wisconsin. Last November, referenda around the state calling on the Walker administration to accept federal funding to expand BadgerCare and to raise the minimum wage passed overwhelmingly. Yet neither of these common-sense, effective poverty fighting measures were mentioned in the Governor’s speech. Instead, his proposals focused on the same destructive policies that have already done damage to our state.

"Gov. Walker’s budget will cause irreparable harm to our public schools and university system. Following upon the severe cuts to public education from his first budget, this budget proposal will further cut school funding to the bone, under the false guise of giving ‘greater flexibility’ to local schools. When property taxes are cut and revenue is capped, the only ‘flexibility’ we can see is to force school districts to make ever more severe cuts to staffing, program, and resources. Further draining the public school system is the Governor’s proposal to lift caps on the voucher program, siphoning funding from public schools to pay for unaccountable private schools that have not been shown to provide any better, and in some cases worse, education to our children than the public schools. Add to that the drastic cuts to the UW system, and Wisconsinites will no longer be able to point to our state with pride as being the locus of a world-class education system.

"The governor’s rationale for slashing funding to the UW is to help close the budget gap. Yet if he would only follow the express wishes of our citizens and accept the federal funding to expand BadgerCare, not only would he save the state almost the exact same amount of money he proposes cutting from UW, he also will be able to provide Wisconsin citizens making between 100-138% of the federal poverty line with affordable health care. But Gov. Walker refuses to take this common sense and humane step toward balancing the budget and helping low-income Wisconsin families.

"Instead, Gov. Walker’s approach to low-income and poor Wisconsinites is to shame and stigmatize them. The governor’s speech last night painted a false picture of food stamp recipients as drug-addicted, lazy people who would rather live on government hand-outs than go to work. The reality is, the federal food stamp program is vital to reducing hunger for low-income and poor families. It is what they need to be able to make ends meet and put food on the table. Rather than imposing additional barriers to accessing needed services, we should be doing all we can to help raise families out of poverty.

"As religious leaders of Wisconsin who are heirs to the prophetic tradition of social justice, we call upon our Legislature to find a better path toward a more equitable and prosperous future for us all. Raising the minimum wage, requiring paid sick leave and family leave, accepting federal funding to expand BadgerCare, building up our public schools into the high-quality institutions we want for all our children, regardless of race or economic status, and making quality community and four-year college affordable to all, these are the things the people of Wisconsin value, and these are the priorities we should see in our state budget."

Reporter Doug Erickson explores matters of faith, values and ethics. You can reach him at derickson@madison.com or 608-252-6149.

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