From taxes to health care to collective bargaining, six candidates seeking to unseat Gov. Scott Walker in the recall election came up with plenty of reasons for wanting him out of office at a forum Monday night.
Hundreds of people came out to hear the candidates share their views in a town hall-style forum at the George Bray Community Center in Racine.
That included state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma), Secretary of State Doug La Follette, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, all of whom are running in the May 8 Democratic primary.
Arthur Kohl-Riggs, who is running as a progressive Republican, and Hari Trivedi, who is running as an independent, also participated in the forum, as did former Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine). Lehman is running against Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), who — like Walker — was not at the forum, sponsored by the Racine Interfaith Coalition, Racine NAACP, and Wisconsin Jobs Now.
Although Walker wasn't there, his name was mentioned early and often, as the candidates criticized the Republican governor's decisions to strip public unions of their ability to collectively bargain, to allow corporate tax loopholes while putting more of a tax burden on the middle class, and to cut education spending.
Are the rich paying their fair share?
A woman from Kenosha asked the candidates if they would be in favor a millionaire’s tax — a question that prompted a discussion on the fairness of the state's tax system.
“It simply isn’t fair that millionaires and billionaires pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries and other average working people,” she told the candidates.
Barrett said this was one of the issues that came up when he ran against Walker in November 2010.
“He wanted to lower that tax on the wealthiest people,” Barrett said. “That is exactly what is wrong in this state. He’s asked one group to sacrifice and not the other group to sacrifice. If there is shared sacrifice, we will be successful. But he has been adamantly opposed to that.”
Falk said she doesn’t believe Wisconsin’s tax code is fair and she would not raise taxes on working families.
“But Governor Walker did,” she said. “He reduced the earned income tax and he reduced the Homestead credit. And that means the working poor and elderly are paying $70 million in taxes, that’s not fair.”
Vinehout added: “We need to make sure that our tax system is low rate, broad based and tracks with the economy. Right now we don’t have a tax system that grows when the economy grows, which is why we have a revenue problem.”
Trivedi said he didn’t favor a millionaire’s tax because he wouldn’t want wealthy Wisconsinites to leave Wisconsin.
Affordable health care a key issue
Kelly Albrecht, of Burlington, asked about BadgerCare. She said her family has been told that they aren’t eligible for it, but they can't afford private health insurance. Albrecht asked if the candidates would support using the provisions in the federal health care reform law to extend BadgerCare to more people.
Barrett said Wisconsin has lost jobs because Walker is giving federal dollars back to the federal government — including health care dollars.
Falk said she had heard so stories from people around the state who struggle with paying for health care. She notes that former Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican, is the one who started BadgerCare.
State employee finds flaws with Act 10
Francisco Peno, of Burlington, who has worked in the food service area of a prison for the past eight years, asked about Act 10, also known as the budget repair bill. The measure eliminated bargain rights for most public employees and required them to pay a larger share of health care and pension costs.
“To some people collective bargaining means money. To us it means safety,” he said. “I can honestly say that morale in the prison system is at an all-time low. State workers have lost their voice in the work place."
Peno wanted to know what the candidates' plans are to restore public employee bargaining rights.
Falk said she would be ready to veto the state budget bill if it didn’t restore collective bargaining rights.
“Unless you are ready to restore it, you’ve got to be ready to veto it,” Falk said. “That’s the one tool the governor has and that’s the one tool you have to be willing to exercise.”
Vinehout also favored bring workers’ rights back. She said people in the Department of Corrections are forced to work in uniforms that are covered in blood all day long.
“Had they had their contracts back, they would have been able to change their uniforms,” she said. “This is humiliating to the worker and it’s a risk to every other worker.”
Barrett said there shouldn’t be any confusion that Walker wanted to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state.
“He started with the public employees’ heads and now they want to go after the rest of the body,” Barrett said. “Anybody who doesn’t think this was a divide-and-conquer strategy, you are dead wrong. And I would certainly veto any legislation that would do that."