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Friday, October 31, 2014  |   Madison, WI: 33.0° F  
MADLAND: A group blog about life in Madison, Wisconsin
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Madland: My family's pay cuts paid for Scott Walker's 'surplus'
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Through the whole State of the State address, I kept waiting for Walker to say thank you to my family.
Through the whole State of the State address, I kept waiting for Walker to say thank you to my family.
Credit:Office of the Governor Scott Walker

Governor Scott Walker's 2014 State of the State address served up a bumper crop of cherry-picked stats, a salad of statistical spam intended to stick it to Democrats who want to talk about how Wisconsin is falling behind the rest of the county. Put up enough financial indicators, and they will spin people's head around.

Walker also showcased a line of newly employed Wisconsinites. They happened to be mostly white men but, hey, the guy knows his base.

But there was one thing I kept waiting for Walker to say.

No, not the State Journal's tilting at windmills that he would make redistricting reform an issue.

Through the whole State of the State address, I kept waiting for Walker to say thank you to my family.

My wife is a teacher, and I'm a state employee in my day job. Walker's big reelection campaign surplus tax cut plan has been funded on our backs. When there was a deficit three years ago, Governor Walker decided to fill the gap by cutting our pay. Sure, it was called increased contributions towards our pension and health insurance, but it was really a pay cut.

"To take on the economic and fiscal crises of the past, we came in and made some, well, pretty bold moves," said Walker, describing his biggest policy achievement with language Garrison Keillor would use to describe the week's news from Lake Wobegon.

For my wife and I, those "pretty bold moves" add up to around $7,000 less per year. That's real money and it impacts our lives.

When I'm not riding the bus, I'm still driving the 1996 Chevy Lumina I've had since high school. Our honeymoon consisted of 48 hours in Door County. We had to ask my parents to lend us money, just so we could get a down payment on a house -- that was not a day I was proud of. Scott didn't bother to thank my mom and stepdad in his address when he boasted about increased home sales.

Right now, we need to budget to fix a broken screen door.

Worst of all, I've had to resort to writing political diatribes on this blog just to help pay the bills.

Things could be worse; we still make more than a lot of our friends our age. I certainly waste less money at the bars than I used to, and that's probably a good thing.

The hardest part is the lack of security we feel. We are professional people with professional jobs, and with our investment in student loans still taking a cut, we never quite feel like our heads are above water. That $7,000 a year doesn't break us, but it has substantially hindered our ability to save. Our cash on hand wouldn’t even cover our mortgage for three months.

What are our options? I could look for another job, but the employers in this town for my field are mostly at the state or university. That's a lateral move, at best. I could go to grad school or start my own business but that would open us up to significant debt, as we can't live off of one teacher's salary.

We could move, but this is where my wife feels she needs to be. She is doing important work that changes young people's lives. There's not a day in which she doesn't do something that inspires me. This district and these kids are where she feels she can do the most good. I can tell that teaching this group of kids is her passion -- she leaves at 6:30 in the morning and comes back at 5:30 at night, and is usually happy about it. I couldn’t imagine taking that away from her.

It hurt to make these sacrifices at a time when the state was suffering, but the wound stings even more when we are told the economy is strong thanks to a set of cherry-picked statistics. The reality of the new normal for our family sinks in.

In his speech, Walker touted the state's personal income growth at 4.4%. I haven't seen it. One group of workers was asked to sacrifice in a time of crisis, but in a time when money is available, the greatest rewards are given to those with the most expensive houses.

To my family, this $150 tax cut is nothing. The good news, I guess, is that we can now afford to replace that broken screen door I mentioned earlier. But it will take more then 45 years of $150 cuts to equal what we lose every single year.

I expected that from Walker, though.

"The best way to prepare for the future is by continuing to grow our economy, not by keeping more money in Madison... now is the time to send your money back to you, the hard-working taxpayers of Wisconsin."

This quote describes his fundamental philosophy to government. Any tax dollar subtracts from economic potential. As taxpayer-funded workers, that means my wife and I have been, and will continue to be, the enemy.

Oh, and it is good to know my wife and I aren't hard-working, being from Madison and all.

There is a projected structural deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2015 state budget, and this plan is expected to add to it. When it comes time to fill that gap, it will probably fall to families like mine to fill it again.

I didn't expect Walker to reinvest in the state's public employees or even propose a responsible fiscal policy that makes sense beyond Election Day.

But I still would have appreciated a shout-out somewhere in that incredibly long yet still empty speech.

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