Gov. Scott Walker never fails to disappoint. So it should not have come as much of a surprise that Walker would steal, er, divert $26 million in funding that was supposed to aid Wisconsin victims of the mortgage meltdown.
In order to address foreclosure and mortgage-servicing abuses committed between 2008 and 2011, some of the nation’s largest banks — Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Residential Capital and Wells Fargo & Co. — agreed to provide $25 billion in a national settlement. The money was to be used to help homeowners who were victimized by the banks.
Wisconsin’s share of the national settlement is $140 million. And the money is needed. In Milwaukee, which has had more foreclosures than any other Wisconsin city, there are a number of neighborhoods that desperately need those resources.
The five hardest-hit ZIP codes in the state are in Milwaukee, and the need is well-defined.
Roughly 4,800 Milwaukee homes have been abandoned. It would cost $48 million simply to demolish them, and far more to rehabilitate them.
But those neighborhoods, and their residents, will not get the money. That’s because Walker has decided to divert $26 million to try to balance the budget that he has for months claimed — falsely — is balanced.
Walker, who engineered massive tax cuts for out-of-state corporations in the first weeks of his governorship, is now taking money from some of the hardest-hit families and neighborhoods in Wisconsin to pay for those tax breaks. At the same time, he is touring the United States to collect campaign contributions from CEOs and millionaires.
This is the behavior that has caused Wisconsinites to rise up and demand the recall and removal of Scott Walker and his cronies.
There’s still a debate about who should challenge Walker in the recall election. It’s too early for endorsements, but it is important to recognize that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is doing a terrific job of calling Walker out on this issue.
In a series of statements and interviews, Barrett has expressed appropriate anger with the governor. Barrett says that “not one dime should be used to fund the unbalanced state budget.”
But he is not stopping there.
The Milwaukee mayor has challenged Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen — who has attempted to provide legal cover for the governor’s infamy — to tour the neighborhoods that have already suffered, and that will suffer more, as a result of the governor’s diversion of the money.
And rightly so.
Walker needs to be confronted with regard to all of his abuses. But it is especially important to challenge his general penchant for budget gimmickry and his specific penchant for diverting money away from programs and projects that serve the neediest Wisconsinites and their communities.
Barrett has emerged as an especially well-focused and well-spoken critic of the governor. He’s made the economic argument that using the mortgage settlement funds for the intended purposes will help stabilize neighborhoods and reduce costs to local and state government.
And the mayor has made the moral argument.
“Many of the people in these neighborhoods were victims of a bait-and-switch,” Barrett says of the foreclosure crisis. “It would be a tragedy if there was a second bait-and-switch where this money that has been allocated to the state of Wisconsin isn’t spent in the communities that have been hardest hit.”
Barrett’s right. Every reasonable Wisconsinite is going to agree with him. And more than a few of them will be thinking that Tom Barrett might be the right Democrat to take on Scott Walker — not just on the mortgage issue but on the full range of issues that will be addressed in the recall election.
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