Walker's government waste panel finds $456 million in savings

MADISON (AP) -- A special commission Republican Gov. Scott Walker created to root out government waste has identified about $456 million per year in potential savings, but Democrats said Tuesday it's misleading and Walker is taking credit for others' efforts.

Walker promised during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign to find $300 million a year in government waste, fraud and abuse. He created the bipartisan commission on his first day in office.

It quietly issued a report this month identifying 16 areas of potential state and local government savings that add up to about $456 million. Those range from $2.2 million that schools could save by shopping for less expensive health insurance plans to $177 million in potential savings by reducing waste and abuse in state assistance programs benefiting the poor, elderly and disabled.

Other recommendations include reducing overtime by $5.2 million, having schools and local governments share services and contracts to save $45 million and cutting state agency spending by $50 million.

"The recommendations by the commission will help state government operate more efficiently and effectively,'' Walker said in a statement. "Moving forward I will work with members of both political parties to implement the remaining recommendations.''

But the commission's two Democratic members, Sen. Chris Larson of Milwaukee and Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison, lambasted the report as misleading and released an alternate plan that they said found at least $685 million in savings a year.

"Much of the supposed savings in Gov. Walker's plan are about as real as the Loch Ness Monster,'' Pocan said in a statement. Still, the Democrats included some of the same recommendations in their report as in Walker's. They left out items such as backing passage of a federal law to improve state court debt collections that Walker's commission estimated would save the state $5.4 million.

Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor stands by the report.

"I think the report speaks for itself,'' Werwie said. "Ultimately, I would encourage individuals to read the report and draw their own conclusions. We think the savings are real.''

The Democrats' report also called for raising taxes on corporations, auditing all legislation passed by Republicans last year that cut taxes on businesses nd undoing a number of other Walker initiatives, including the new law requiring a photo ID for voting.

Werwie, the governor's spokesman, said the Democrats should have raised their points during the commission meetings rather than use the group's work for partisan gain. He suggested the alternate report be titled, "The Report that Proves Democrats Refuse to Work with Governor Walker.''