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POMMER: Estimates could cost Republicans

By Matt Pommer

The Walker administration has retreated from a bid to force a limited layoff of state-paid prosecutors, but not without a verbal potshot at the previous Democratic administration.

The retreat came after elected district attorneys criticized the Walker administration plan to force assistant district attorneys to take unpaid furlough days to help balance the state’s 2010-11 budget.

Forcing the layoffs would hurt the ability to deal with crime and consult with victims, according to the district attorneys organization. Gov. Scott Walker responded by saying public safety is important to his administration.

But he couldn’t resist trying to blame former Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration.

“It is unfortunate that the previous administration largely tied the state’s hands and limited our ability to balance our budget without a significant cut to public safety,” Walker said.

But that was before the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported state tax revenues are significantly more than expected. More than $200 million will be collected for the current fiscal year and another $400 million will be available for the 2011-13 biennial budget.

The report was not unique to Wisconsin. Other states also found increased income tax collections for the 2010 calendar year. For example, California tax revenues climbed by more than $6 billion. It shows there is improvement in the country’s economy.

The Wisconsin tax-estimate news probably isn’t surprising. When Walker came to office this year, the state’s unemployment rate on a seasonally adjusted basis was running about 2 percent better than the national jobless number.

The $600 million in higher tax revenues could cause some political problems for Wisconsin Republicans who had rushed legislation through the Legislature to effectively destroy public employee collective bargaining.

That major move was necessary to balance the state budget, the governor said. It would have been a much more difficult claim if the higher tax revenue estimates had been known.

At this writing, it appears there will be recall elections for nine state senators — six Republicans and three Democrats — probably before the end of summer. The Republicans largely have been targeted because of the emergency legislation to take away collective bargaining provisions, arguably to balance the budget.

The three Democratic senators are recall targets because they were among the 14 senators who fled to Illinois to slow down the drive to enact the collective bargaining provisions.

The higher tax estimates will add another dimension to the heated recall election arguments. The public will have to decide whether Walker and the Legislature should have waited until the tax collection numbers were available.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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