The Wisconsin State Journal asked the four Democratic candidates vying to face Gov. Scott Walker in the upcoming recall election about key issues in the race. Responses were edited and condensed. For their full responses, go to www.madison.com.
You’re already on record as wanting to restore stripped collective bargaining rights to public employees. How would you go about doing it? Would you leave in place some of the benefit changes Gov. Scott Walker made for public employees?
TOM BARRETT: The best way to restore the worker rights that Scott Walker took away without warning or debate is with a multi-pronged approach that provides the most opportunities for success. I’ve offered multiple strategies to get the job done, whether calling a special session of the Legislature, or introducing a standalone bill. This path is best because it maximizes flexibility, takes advantage of political momentum, and provides the best chance for success. (Increased) contributions to pensions and health care should continue, and is something most everyone agrees on, including union leadership.
KATHLEEN FALK: I am open and honest and am the only candidate for governor who has said I will put the restoration of collective bargaining rights into the state budget. Each of the other Democratic candidates for governor has criticized my stance but none have a better way to restore the rights Gov. Walker stripped. I will restore 50 years of workers rights Gov. Walker took away and will sit down and negotiate salary, health care and pensions like I successfully did as a county executive for 14 years. My record shows collective bargaining works for taxpayers and for employees.
DOUG LA FOLLETTE: I believe that all workers should have the right to organize and bargain for fair pay, safe and appropriate working conditions, and health and retirement benefits. Sometimes it is necessary for unionized workers to make sacrifices to the common good. This includes paying more for their benefits but in a progressive manner. But those sacrifices need to be more than matched by those richest of Wisconsinites and Americans in the upper 1 percent. In short, I would work with members of the Legislature from both parties to restore these rights.
KATHLEEN VINEHOUT: Restoring public employee collective bargaining is one of my first priorities. I will work to bring collective bargaining for public employees back long before the budget passes. I wouldn’t rule out vetoing the budget as a last resort, but I think it’s a flawed strategy. There is broad public support for collective bargaining and is much more likely to pass as a separate “stand alone” bill than combined with anything else. I will work to get this done very early in the next legislative session. Attaching the budget to collective bargaining will make restoring collective bargaining more difficult, not less difficult.
What specifically would you do to improve the state’s economy and help bring jobs to Wisconsin?
BARRETT: As governor, I will implement a real economic agenda that boosts Wisconsin’s crucial manufacturing sector, invests in venture capital, grows the clean energy economy, and supports small-business growth and startups. We must also recognize that education is a jobs and economic development issue. Walker made the deepest cuts to education in Wisconsin history, slashing institutions that develop innovations, products and technologies for the future, and train our work force with the cutting-edge skills needed to attract businesses. As governor I will invest in these job-creating strategies.
FALK: My “Knowledge and Innovation Equals Jobs” Plan is a comprehensive vision that invests in education and Wisconsin’s unique research opportunities as part of a long-term strategy to create manufacturing jobs out of the incredibly exciting and internationally important science and research happening here in Wisconsin: water pollution near the Great Lakes, stem cell research, hi-tech and biotechnology in Madison and forestry products in the Northwoods. My plan also builds upon existing innovative measure to support moving workers back into jobs, supporting businesses and reducing energy costs.
LA FOLLETTE: My goal will be to put together a plan for “Making Wisconsin Work Again.” I would utilize the resources of the university and Center On Wisconsin Strategy to develop programs and policies to move our state forward — a renewed Wisconsin Idea. I would strive to bring us together around support for education, research, health care and investments that would lead to a improved economy. Much of our current infrastructure of roads and bridges and water treatment facilities are in need of repair. We should be investing in education, from K-12 to our universities and technical colleges.
VINEHOUT: My New Economic Game Plan invests in human potential, improves the infrastructure that supports all economic activity and addresses the major problems faced by businesses that want to expand. My plan invests in transportation and communication infrastructure including high-speed rail, optional regional transportation authorities, extending broadband, and long term planning for roads and bridges. My plan creates health insurance exchanges. Making affordable health insurance available in a competitive market is the single most important thing we can do to help small businesses, farmers and individual entrepreneurs. I would begin a comprehensive evaluation of our state and local taxes.
Walker cut more than $1 billion from education, including $300 million from the UW System. Would you restore some of that funding? How much, and how would you pay for it?
BARRETT: We must restore education funding gutted by Gov. Walker, because education is a jobs and economic development issue. It starts by focusing on jobs, which in turn will generate more revenue that can be invested to support K-12, college, and technical college education. We must also roll back Walker’s $2.3 billion in tax giveaways over the next 10 years — primarily to corporations and the wealthy. Clearly these tax cuts aren’t sparking economic growth; Wisconsin lost more jobs than any state in the nation last year. It’s time to put these resources toward something that will really grow our economy: education.
FALK: Education will be my top priority as governor. Gov. Walker’s record cuts to public education hurt our children and limit our economic growth. I believe public tax dollars should go to public schools — and any school receiving taxpayer funds should have the same accountability standards. Not only do I oppose Gov. Walker’s cuts to the state’s K-12 and UW system, I oppose his $36 million annual cut to the technical college system. My “Invest in Success” plan fully restores all of the technical college funding he cut by closing one of his new corporate tax loopholes for out-of-state companies.
LA FOLLETTE: A cut to education funding of this magnitude is deplorable. I support the proposal put forth by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, which would increase funding for public schools and the state’s university system through the addition of 1 percent to the state sales tax. I would review the overall sales tax to provide exemptions for necessities, and close loopholes making it more progressive. I also support (Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony) Evers’ Fair Funding for Our Future plan. I would work with legislators from both parties.
VINEHOUT: When Gov. Walker introduced his budget last year, I prepared an alternative budget that restored almost all the cuts made to public schools, technical colleges and veterans’ programs, except for concessions on benefits agreed to by unions. In my alternative budget, I reallocated $589 million, including restoring $398 million to public schools and technical colleges. To balance the budget I eliminated $105 million in new programs, $43 million in new payments to private schools and $98 million in tax cuts to corporations. I will advance an emergency funding bill for schools in this coming school year that would look first at the changes I made in my alternative budget.
How would you balance budget concerns with trying to protect low-income people who rely on health care coverage through state programs such as BadgerCare?
BARRETT: Scott Walker’s policies have threatened to toss tens of thousands of people out of health care programs like BadgerCare. At the same time he has given primarily corporations and the wealthy $2.3 billion in tax cuts over the next 10 years, and, amazingly, raised taxes on seniors and low-income people. By reversing Walker’s unfair tax policies, and establishing some tax fairness in Wisconsin, we can maintain health care coverage for tens of thousands through successful and popular programs that are proven to work, like BadgerCare.
FALK: Gov. Walker’s efforts to cut tens of thousands of men, women and children from access to affordable care doesn’t create jobs and it doesn’t help families. It will only raise the costs of health care. I made funding for human services and health care a priority during my 14 years as county executive to serve the health care needs of county residents. Wisconsin has a proud bipartisan tradition of getting people the health care they need, and Gov. Walker’s cuts do not represent the values of the people of Wisconsin.
LA FOLLETTE: I would strive to bring us together around support for education, research, health care and investments that would lead to a improved economy. The governor cannot do this immediately. However, I would work on plans and solutions to propose to the Legislature that would repair the damage. For example, I would examine corporate tax loopholes to fund our technical, university, and public education system and BadgerCare. Our taxes should be fair and equitable. Wisconsin citizens don’t mind paying for police and fire protection, for good roads, health care and education if the tax system is fair.
VINEHOUT: We must bring management of state-funded health programs into the 21st century. This includes identifying cost-drivers, measuring results and helping people make informed decisions. People ask: What programs would you cut? What taxes would you raise? But they seldom ask: What management changes can be made to improve performance and lower costs? An audit of Medicaid I pushed for three years found widespread problems, many involving private contractors, and loose oversight. What can best be done in-house should be; contractors should meet or exceed performance standards. Providers should focus on prevention and proven approaches to quality, low cost care.
Aside from the above issues, what would be your top priority as governor?
BARRETT: Like his right-wing allies at the national level, Gov. Walker has waged a war on women in Wisconsin that is pushing our state backwards. He has ended state enforcement protections for equal pay for equal work, intruded on the doctor-patient relationship, and thrown up roadblocks to reproductive freedom and health. I trust women and physicians to make these medical decisions more than I do Scott Walker. Women will continue to see setback after setback as long as he remains in office. As governor, I will end Walker’s war on women and reverse his extreme policies.
FALK: When Gov. Walker failed on his promise to create jobs, he began a “War on Women” that attacks our rights and further divides us. You don’t create jobs by paying women less than a man makes for the same job. You don’t create jobs by teaching “abstinence only” in our classrooms. You don’t create jobs by denying women access to health care. You only hurt women. Gov. Walker has divided our state. As governor, I will bring us back together.
LA FOLLETTE: This election is about restoring faith in our traditions and values, it is about restoring faith in the democratic process, but most importantly, it’s about restoring our faith in each other. I am running because I have faith in the people of Wisconsin. I said that listening to all the people of Wisconsin and restoring civility — treating all Wisconsin citizens with respect — is the foundation I will operate from. This includes honoring employees and businesses alike as integral aspects of a thriving state economy. And most of all, as our governor, I will respect everyone’s rights.
VINEHOUT: Healing the divisions among us must be our top priority. I will take the lead, as governor, to create a different tone. I would work to restore the traditional Wisconsin values of respect and honor by using calm rhetoric, confining my remarks to differences in approach and policy, and avoiding personal attacks. I will refrain from “fast tracking” legislative passage of major proposals. I will be forthright and speak firmly and directly about my intentions. The door to my office will be open to everyone. I will follow the law and all the rules for notice, public testimony, and open meetings.