It’s a brutal year for school budgets in many states, and so it’s not surprising that candidates for governor are coming forward with promises to cut costs, raise revenue, or some combination aimed at balancing the books.
In Wisconsin, Republican Scott Walker and Democrat Tom Barrett are taking aim at health care costs for schools and other government workers. Walker wants to give school boards, city councils and village boards the ability to join the state health insurance pool, even over the objections of unions, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. As one might guess, the teachers’ union doesn’t think much of the idea. That move would save schools $68 million a year and local governments $224 million, argues Walker, who’s currently Milwaukee’s county executive. Barrett would require local governments to buy insurance through the state system, which the Milwaukee mayor says would save $339 million a year. Barrett wants to include school districts in the state pool in the future but feels that doing so right away isn’t politically feasible, one of his campaign advisers tells the Journal Sentinel. A critic calls that a concession aimed at appeasing the teachers’ union.
One state to the south, Illinois incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, is proposing a 33 percent income tax hike, which he says would allow local school districts around the state to cut property taxes. Quinn says this isn’t the same as an outright “tax swap,” in which the state would raise income taxes and cut property taxes, presumably in a dollar-for-dollar exchange, according to the Chicago Tribune. Illinois school advocates have been talking about a tax swap for as long as I can remember, as a way of reducing what they see an inequitable funding system that punishes tax-poor districts. Quinn’s opponent, Republican state Sen. Bill Brady, is vowing to bringing the state’s budget under control through “unspecified” budget cuts, the Tribune reports.
Of course, bringing government spending under control is rarely as easy as it seems on the stump. The Associated Press reminds us of this in its reporting on the New Mexico governor’s race, where Democrat Diane Denish and Republican Susana Martinez are both promising to make the cuts necessary to close a $230 million budget shortfall. The AP takes a look at those promises and finds them wanting. So does the chair of the state’s senate finance committee, who says either candidate will be in for a “rude awakening” upon taking office and realizing that their proposals won’t make up the gap.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.