Now that Gov. Scott Walker signed the 2017-19 state budget into law, he can turn his full-time attention to the reelection campaign between now and November 2018. For Walker, his 2017-19 state budget provides him with four major campaign issues that he believes will help him capture a third four-year term next year.
For the growing list of Democratic candidates jumping into the race to oppose Walker, this same budget document will provide them with plenty of fodder to deny Walker a third term. From their perspective, Walker’s budget is a big-spending political document designed to help get the governor safely reelected. After that, the governor will revert back to his budget-cutting ways going back to 2011.
Based on comments made by the governor and those running in the Democratic primary, four major issues are emerging as central to next year’s election. Three of the four issues are related to the state budget, including school funding, transportation funding and taxes. The fourth major issue, Foxconn, has also emerged as a significant difference between Democrats and Republicans with virtually all Democrats opposed to Foxconn and virtually all Republicans supporting the new manufacturing facility. Here’s a quick overview of these four issues as the race for governor moves to center stage.
School funding and property taxes
With additional education funding for K-12 schools and the UW system, Walker is making the recently passed state budget the focal point of his campaign. At the same time, says Walker, property taxes will be lower in 2018 than they were in 2014. The 2017-19 state budget did, in fact, provide $639 million in new money for K-12 education and $30 million more for the UW system. In addition, tuition will be frozen again at UW campuses for the next two years.
Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate and current Wisconsin schools superintendent Tony Evers, are critical of Walker’s past budget cuts to K-12 education and the UW system. Evers claims the 2017-19 budget for education is an “anomaly” that “hardly gets us back to where we started from.” State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma), another Democratic candidate for governor, has proposed free tuition at all of the state’s technical and two-year colleges. Democrats will remind voters about Walker’s previous budgets that cut funding for education and predict that he will do it again if reelected.
So while Gov. Walker will run on his most recent state budget, the Democrats running against him will discuss Walker’s past budgets and how those budgets slashed funding for education across the board.
Foxconn and the economy
The state of the Wisconsin economy will be central to next year’s race for governor. Walker is touting the current Wisconsin unemployment rate of 3.5 percent, and the signature trophy of his economic development agenda, Foxconn. Walker will continue to highlight the Foxconn promise of investing $10 billion to build and operate a state-of-the-art flatscreen manufacturing plant in Racine County that is projected to create up to 13,000 new jobs.
All six Democrats who jumped into the race so far and even a few potential candidates who are looking at the race are opposed to the Foxconn deal due to the $3 billion incentive package approved by the state, which includes relaxing certain environmental regulations. This difference in opinion provides Walker and his eventual opponent with a clear dividing line on jobs and the economy. There has not been a lot of public opinion polling on the Foxconn deal, but pollsters will certainly track this issue now that the GOP legislature passed the Foxconn bill and the governor signed it. The Foxconn deal will be a central focus of the 2018 race for governor.
Long-term transportation funding will be another top-tier issue in the 2018 gubernatorial race. For Democrats, Walker has consistently kicked the proverbial can down the road in an effort to find additional revenue sources to pay for current and future transportation needs. The debate over long-term transportation funding is also an issue that divides Republicans in the legislature. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) tried in vain to get new revenue streams to pay for transportation needs, but Walker said no to a higher gas tax or vehicle registration fee.
Walker, on the other hand, will point to a $6 billion boost in the current transportation budget, and “the largest increase in aid to help local governments fix roads and bridges in 20 years.” For the governor, the bottom line on transportation funding was no new gas tax or registration fees. While Gov. Walker succeeded in this regard, he will now have to defend his position.
Walker is running on a platform that includes $8 billion in tax cuts since he took office in 2011. According to the Wisconsin State Budget Office, the bulk of the $8 billion came from the 2011 manufacturing and industry tax cut as well as the 2013 income and property tax cuts. Politifact Wisconsin checked the Walker administration numbers with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance; Politifact rated Walker’s claim regarding $8 billion as “true.” Walker and legislative Republicans will run on a significant tax-cutting platform in 2018.
Democrats will claim these tax cuts mostly benefit the wealthy and take financial resources away from K-12 schools, the UW system, transportation needs and healthcare. Walker’s opponent will likely portray these tax cuts, along with Foxconn, as “corporate giveaways” when this money could have been spent on other pressing needs.
Other issues will certainly be debated in next year’s race for governor, but these four issues will be debated in great detail by Walker and his opponent, whoever that might be.
Joe Murray is Director of Political and Governmental Affairs for the WRA.