If you follow the polls, Scott Walker and Tom Barrett are either neck and neck or Walker has widened his lead up to 10 pointswith less than two weeks before the election. Walker and Barrett had their final Milwaukee debate last week and some questions were asked and either not fully answered or ignored by the candidates in lieu of their stock talking point.
I spoke with Walker to follow up on some of those questions and talk about one of his political heroes, Tommy Thompson.
Explain how eliminating 4000 unfilled state positions will help fill the $2.7 billion fiscal hole you’d face on Jan. 3, 2011.
“Even though the positions are not filled, the money is still put in the budget for them,” Walker said. “By removing the funds from the budget for those empty positions, the bottom line on state spending would automatically fall, thereby reducing the shortfall.”
Walker said the positions are not necessary since they have not been filled for at least a year and the savings from removing the funding for them could total $700 million.
You borrowed $400 million to cover current obligations to the Milwaukee County Pension Fund. Is this a tactic you plan to use if faced with state obligations that have not been adequately funded?
Walker said the county pension fund is currently funded and solvent, and he plans to implement a 5 percent employee contribution for state workers to the pension plan. “Doing that will save the state approximately $360 million.”
He added that other ways to save money and free up funds for urgent state obligations would include searching out waste and fraud in the child welfare system, saving the state $600 million, and adding more workers to the employee health plan, saving $300 million.
The mental health care system in Milwaukee County could be compared to “The Snake Pit,” with under-qualified administrators, substandard facilities and violations all under your administration. Why should voters believe you won’t run the state in the same manner you have runthe Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Complex?
Walker said the situation at the Behavioral Health Complex is actually an example of his ability to take control and fix problems.
“I stepped in, but the previous administrator was qualified with a hospital administrators license. However, we felt he would make the long-term changes necessary, so we reassigned him,” Walker explained. “The people directly responsible for the problems out there have been fired.”
He added that over 100,000 patients are served annually at the complex and the handful of problems is unacceptable, but they are exceptions to the rule.
“[The county] has doubled our commitment to mental health care, but the state and federal funding has been backed off,” he said.
At this point Walker veered off from the question and onto Tom Barrett’s broken promises.
“He promised not to dump 6 years ago, and since then his has dumped 8 billion gallons of waste into the lake. [Barrett] is not holding anyone in this case accountable. He also has ignored the Open Sky radio problems and passes the blame to a low-level employee at the radio company. He needs to stand up and take responsibility.”
Avoiding the topic of the high-speed train, what are you transportation priorities for the state and how will you fund those priorities?
“We need a comprehensive system for our transporation needs,” Walker said. “We need to invest in our infrastructure, fix our roads and bridges and keep our existing transportation hubs (ports, airports and interchanges) modern and safe.”
He would fund his plan by stopping the money grab from the transportation fund, working to enact anamendment to stop raids on the transportation fund and also transferring more money collected from auto sales into the transfer.
When asked if he would allow the 1 percent sales tax approved by Milwaukee County voters for transit and parks funding, he responded with a resounding ‘no.’
“That was only an advisory referendum, so it wasn’t binding. Besides, government isn’t about not having enough money it is how it is managed.”
Tommy Thompson is one of your political idols. Which Thompson policies would you like to reinstate or emulate if elected as governor?
Walker would like to model his first term after Thompson’s.
“When he took office we had similiar circumstances. A national recession, the state had lost 178,000 jobs, it was bad,” Walker said. “But he came in and made a series of changes to lower the tax burden. He made the state attractive to businesses and created 268,000 jobs in the process.”
I liked the 80s too, but will 1986 solutions solve our 2010 problems? Walker hopes to get the chance to find out.