Darling: Districts That Acted Quickly on Contracts Now Dealing with a 'Big Mess'

Republican senator praises Walker's budget for giving schools choices and keeping a lid on spending, taxes.

Madison - State Sen. Alberta Darling said Tuesday that Wisconsin school districts that rushed to enter into new teacher contracts before the state budget repair bill was passed "have put themselves into a box" because now they're now facing a huge cut in state aid.

Because Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill calls for having teachers and other public employees pay more toward their pension and health insurance, and eliminates most bargaining rights, some districts quickly approved contracts before that bill passes.

However, the state budget unveiled by Walker Tuesday includes more than $800 million cuts in state aid to schools over the next two years. Walker has argued that the provisions in his budget repair bill would lower school district costs and offset the loss in revenue.

But districts that have already approved teachers contracts will have to deal with the loss of state aid without getting the concessions from teachers.

Speaking after Walker's budget address, Darling, a River Hills Republican, said provisions of the budget repair bill are supposed to go hand in hand with the reduction  in state aid.

"The school districts that rushed to get new contracts without considering what the options would be at the state level have put themselves into a box,” she said. “These tools are going to help offset the cuts, and if school districts are going to rush, (they) are going to be a big mess.”

Darling says budget provides choices

Many of the proposals outlined in Walker's budget hinge on passage of the budget repair bill, which has been passed by the Assembly. A Senate vote is being held up because 14 Democratic senators are refusing to return to Madison to vote on the measure.

Not only would the budget repair bill free up money tied to pensions and health care, it also would allow districts flexibility to chose where that money is spent, said Darling, whose district includes Shorewood, Whitefish Bay and Fox Point.

“The school boards will have the opportunity with the savings to say how they want to use this money,” she said. “I’d say it’s better to put that money into the classroom and into teachers so that we can have a good education system.”

 “These are going to be tough choices that will have to be made at the local level,” Darling added. “But I give the governor a lot of credit for having the cuts, which he has to do.”

Walker's budget also calls for the expansion of school choice and charter programs. The plan is to lift the cap on the number of students eligible to participate in Milwaukee, and phase out income eligibility limits.

“It shows that we want to offer choices to our families, and we need to use unused buildings for those opportunities,” Darling said.

Democrats need to get back to work

Darling also said Senate Democrats need to return to Madison soon - before Walker starts issuing layoff notices to public employees. Darling also said the deadline is approaching for the state to refinance its debt.

“We’re going to lose $165 million for refinancing of our debt,” she said. “If we can’t get the savings, we can’t give the local governments the tools they need to balance their budgets. There’s a lot at stake here.”

Darling, who is co-chairman of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, said lawmakers would like to get the budget finished by the end of June.

“We’re going to have public hearings , we’re going to go around the state and hear what people have to say,” Darling said. “Not everyone is going to be happy with it. But we have a $3.6 billion hole, so anyone who wants to say they don’t like it they have to come up with some ideas on how to meet the budget.”

The prosser-cuter May 16, 2011 at 03:10 PM
Lyle: I disagree with you wholeheartedly. We don't need new taxes or to raise exisitng ones. We need to create more taxpayers! That means creating a business friendly environment which is what Walker and Darling are attempting to do. We need to simultaneously make cuts such as the ones proposed now.
Lyle Ruble May 16, 2011 at 05:59 PM
@The prosser-cuter...Ideally the answer to our problems would be to create more taxpayers, but at this point that is only wishful thinking. To add enough new jobs that we can overcome our shortfall is a long term solution. We don't need to increase state income tax but we could get rid of a lot of current exemptions to increase revenue. Elimination of sales tax exemptions would also increase revenues along with raising the rate an additional 1/2% would eliminate even more of the revenue shortfall. My plan would be to make small increases in the revenue streams to maintain the state's operations while the employment comes back. Our quickest job growth will come from current workers getting called back.
The prosser-cuter May 16, 2011 at 06:42 PM
I think we need to continue cutting taxes. Specifically for businesses. Getting rid of combined reporting would be a good first step. Doyle was a master at raising every tax or increasing fees. Where did that get us? I don't agree with you about raising sales tax rate either. We have to control the line on spending and grow our economy. More people working = more income tax. More people working = more retail sales = more sales tax. Increasing sales tax rate = depressing demand for products = less sales tax revenue. Depressing demand for products = lower employement = less income tax revenue. Vicious cycle!
RAK May 16, 2011 at 07:25 PM
I concur with no new taxes, they are never temporary. You are on the correct path, Lyle is not, especially true on the combined reporting, we'll lose Kohls next if we don't repeal it and we cannot afford to lose another major enterprise's home office in Wisconsin.
The prosser-cuter May 16, 2011 at 07:46 PM
You are correct RAK! Many of my friends and neighbors work at Kohl's corporate. If they were to move that would have a devastating impact on Menomonee Falls, Sussex, Germantown, and other local communities. I think combined reporting will be a major factor if they decide to move the headquarters out of Wisconsin.


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