Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) had a plan: win a second term, take advantage of a good year for Republicans, and soon after prepare for a national campaign. The plan is looking a little shaky right now, with polls show him in the midst of a very competitive re-election campaign against Democratic businesswoman Mary Burke.
A month ago, the Republican incumbent and his allies tried moving to the left, blasting Burke as an “outsourcing one-percenter.”
That didn’t do much to improve Walker’s standing, so the governor is now moving back to the right, promising big tax cuts and drug testing for those receiving public aid in a second term.
With less than two months to go in a tight re-election race, the Republican governor put forward a 62-page plan that sums up the actions of his first term, defends them against the critique of his Democratic rival, former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke, and offers several new proposals.“It’s our next wave of the Wisconsin comeback. It’s our plan to make sure that everyone who wants a job can find a job,” Walker said in a telephone interview.
As a rule, when an incumbent is still scrambling seven weeks before Election Day, looking for a platform while struggling to defend his record, it’s not a good sign.
Walker, referencing a one-page summary of his agenda, told the AP, “That’s our plan of action for the next four years. Tear it off. Hang it up. Put it next to your computer. Put it on your fridge.”
Part of the trouble is, Walker used similar rhetoric four years ago, when he promised Wisconsin he’d create 250,000 private sector jobs by the end of his first term – and said he should be judged according to that standard. Nearly four years later, the governor is less than halfway to his goal, and has yet to explain why he couldn’t keep his highest-profile promise.
But even putting that aside, the two key tenets of the Republican’s new agenda – tax cuts and drug testing – probably polled well, but they each come with one big flaw.
On the former, Walker already cut taxes in his first term, and it’s caused a mess for Wisconsin’s state finances. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorialized last week:
Wisconsin’s state budget may be out of balance by nearly $1.8 billion when the new two-year cycle begins next July, and for that you can thank Gov. Scott Walker’s fiscal policies.While the expected shortfall may end up being smaller – or larger – than it appears to be now, it’s clear that a combination of Walker policies and lagging growth in tax revenue blew a hole in the state’s finances.
The governor, facing this reality, is calling for more tax breaks. Perfect.
But the latter is arguably even more offensive. The plan would require “drug testing at an undisclosed cost for able-bodied adults receiving unemployment insurance payments or benefits under FoodShare, the successor to the food stamps program.” It’s part of a political phenomenon we discussed earlier this year: conservative policymakers keep targeting welfare recipients with drug tests, and the policies keep failing rather spectacularly.
We know exactly what drives these efforts. For many, especially on the right, it makes sense to assume those who are struggling are to blame for their plight. If you’re relying on TANF aid to help your family keep its head above water, maybe there’s something wrong with your lifestyle. Maybe the state should assume you have a drug problem.
But recent real-world evidence points in a different direction. Requiring those who are relying on the safety net to give the government their bodily fluids in exchange for benefits is not only legally dubious; it’s also ineffective and a waste of money.
If Walker doesn’t know these previous experiments have failed, he should. If he does know and chooses to push the idea anyway, it would seem the governor’s plan for the next seven weeks is built on little more than callous cynicism.