The Walker Recall and Maryland

Marc Kilmer Jun 6, 2012

The big news this morning is that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker survived the recall vote against him. Walker’s victory in a state that is only slightly less liberal than Maryland may have an impact in this state. But for that to happen, it will take the efforts of people who are truly concerned about the state’s unsustainable fiscal path.

It’s tempting to draw too many lessons from this vote. It’s also tempting to see in this vote a message that confirms your preconceived notions. However, I do think it’s correct to say that voters will reward politicians who take on powerful special interest groups to reform the way a state government spends taxpayer money.

Ultimately, however, voters would not have turned back this recall attempt if Walker’s reforms didn’t work. Clearly, the state is better off because of them, as Reason magazine reports:

Walker’s collective bargaining reforms have produced fiscal benefits so palpable across Wisconsin that even if Barrett wins, he will be hard pressed to undo these reforms without running into massive taxpayer resistance. Walker has required public employees to cough up more toward their own pension and health care costs and limited union contract negotiations only to wages -- putting benefits, working conditions and the kitchen sink off limits. All of this has given school districts and municipalities’ new tools to deal with cut backs in state revenue sharing without massive layoffs of government employees or one-time budgetary fixes. In the past the state had plugged shortfalls by illegally raiding other funds and raising “funny money.” …

But now for the first time in years, not only did the state plug its $3.6 billion biennial deficit without tax increases and such cheap shenanigans. It also restored a long-term structural balance. Speaking of taxes, under business as usual scenarios, property taxes for the average Wisconsin homeowner would have increased by $700 to balance the budget. Now, however … even without socking homeowners, Wisconsin’s department of revenue predicts the state will have a $154 million budget surplus by the end of the budget period in 2013 and will place half of it in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

That stands in stark contrast to Maryland, where Gov. O’Malley’s response to the state’s budget problems is largely raising taxes and fees to deal (although, to be fair, he did propose some good reforms to the state pension system, even if they didn’t go far enough). In fact, just this year in Maryland, the governor called a special session to raise taxes in order to, in part, prevent state employees from paying a few more dollars for their health insurance and to ensure that 500 positions weren’t cut from the state government.

The O’Malley way of governing isn’t sustainable. Fundamental reforms, such as those undertaken in Wisconsin, are necessary for this state to regain its fiscal footing. That’s why Walker’s success in the recall election is a good sign. It shows that a politician can possibly make these reforms and still remain in office.

Will any Maryland politician seize the initiative? If these common sense reforms can succeed in Wisconsin, they can succeed here. It simply takes a leader to enact them.