The state budget is stuffed with more than 100 policy items that have little if anything to do with spending money.
Gov. Scott Walker should veto every last one of them.
Doing so in one fell swoop would help speed the governor’s review of the state’s $73 billion spending plan before signing it into law. The governor said he’d finish the budget before officially launching a bid for the White House. His presidential announcement is set for Monday.
More important, eliminating all non-fiscal policy would stop potentially harmful and unpopular proposals from becoming law if they can’t survive the democratic process as individual bills.
Walker promised during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign to “strip policy and pork projects from the state budget.” He has repeatedly broken that pledge in past state spending plans. Now is a great chance for him to show he’s serious about good government practices by doing what he said he’d do.
Among the slew of policy changes slipped into the state budget before it was approved by the Republican-run Legislature this week are favors for payday lenders and an oil pipeline company.
Other policy provisions in the budget would let public universities hide the names of finalists for top jobs, loosen restrictions on alcohol sales and change the definition of lead paint.
If these and other policy changes are such good ideas, they should be able to stand on their own merits as separate bills, which would require public notice and input. Instead, by tucking them into the massive budget, lawmakers don’t have to identify who is sponsoring the measures or defend them at public hearings. State leaders also dodge accountability by avoiding specific votes.
That means policy proposals that lack public and legislative support can nonetheless become law.
Few lawmakers — when their party is in power — have stuck to their principles by refusing to vote for budgets filled with non-fiscal policy. One of the few is Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, who honorably voted against the GOP’s 2015-17 spending plan this week — specifically because of all the unrelated policy that was included.
(Cowles also objected to his colleagues’ failed attempt last week to gut Wisconsin’s open records law, calling it an “assault on democracy.”)
The governor can’t restore senseless spending cuts — many of which were his idea — with his veto pen. He can only reduce or eliminate items.
Wisconsin shouldn’t be cutting its universities by $250 million or stalling the Verona Road project that’s already under way. Nor should leaders be holding K-12 spending basically flat while steering more public dollars to private school.
Our state and governor should have better priorities than that.
Gov. Walker has controlled taxes and reduced the power of labor unions. He hopes that record will impress conservative voters in the GOP presidential primary.
But true fiscal conservatives, such as Cowles, also expect disciplined budgeting and respect for good government practices. That means vetoing all of the non-fiscal policy this week. The ugly process of sticking stinkers into the budget needs to end.