A recall election for Gov. Scott Walker would cost just more than $9 million without a primary and $17 million with a primary, according to numbers released Friday.
The Government Accountability Board reached those estimates after receiving information from the state's 72 counties. The work was done after Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) made a request for the information.
"The costs are significant," said Vos. "We asked for these figures, hoping that if people knew the cost, they would think twice."
After learning the recall elections in summer 2011 cost over $2 million, Vos wanted to know what a statewide recall would run. In a letter to the GAB back in October, Vos asked for an estimate, saying he wanted voters informed before petitions were circulated for Governor Scott Walker and other elected officials.
"I believe that Wisconsin taxpayers should know the estimated cost of running a statewide election before petitions are circulated. Taxpayers need this cost estimate so they can make a better informed decision as to how their tax dollars should be spent. This is essential information because the recall election costs will have a direct impact on all county and local government budgets," he wrote.
On Jan. 6, the GAB returned a letter to Vos explaining how they compiled their figures. In a nutshell, the agency asked counties and municipalities to fill out a survey with estimates based on the November 2010 and April 2011 election costs. The numbers were broken down into county, municipality and GAB costs:
- Counties: $2,348,423.98
- Municipalities: $5,821,898.20
- GAB: $841,349
- Total: $9,011,762.18
But Vos said that doesn't tell the whole story since this figure is for one statewide election. The $9 million price tag does not include a possible primary.
"There is every indication the Democrats could have more than one candidate, plus you have to consider the potential of state senate recalls," he said. "So, really, $9 million could just be the beginning, we could be talking as much as $20 million."
Because the costs associated with any additional elections beyond the spring and fall elections are not budgeted, counties and municipalities may have to cut needed services to pay for it all.
"Each election costs us from $100,000 to $200,000," said Racine County Executive Jim Ladwig. "Now, we do share some of that with the municipalities, but we aren't going to run a deficit so we'll have to get creative."
The Government Accountability Board in November 2011 estimated a cost to its agency of about $700,000, but has since revised that number to $841,349. The increase is because of a ruling on Jan. 5 by a Waukesha County judge that it is the GAB's responsibility to verify signatures. An extra $100,000 may be needed to pay for software and another $8,650 for an off-site facility.
But Vos said even that number isn't concrete.
"There might be some extra money needed for staff or equipment," he said. "And if they come to us at the Finance Committee and ask for the funds, I'm going to say 'yes' because I want to help make sure there's as fair a process as possible."
The committee, he explained, has a contingency fund, but,again, he stressed, that means cutting from somewhere else.
"That money could be used for other initiatives like job creation, but we'll have to spend it instead on these frivolous recall elections," Vos stated.
Graeme Zielinski, communications director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, responded.
"The cost of doing nothing is far greater. $133 million is the increase in fees that Scott Walker has created; $70 million is amount of taxes he's raised on seniors and working poor; $2.3 billion is the hole he blew in our budget to give tax breaks to corporations," he said. "Rep. Vos didn't have a problem with costs when Walker's political machine tried to recall Gov. Doyle. There is no one who has taken money from the municipalities more than Scott Walker himself to pay for tax cuts for the super rich, and there is always the $2.6 billion cut from education that can't be forgotten."
Potential timelines, according to Racine County Clerk Wendy Christiansen, would put the earliest elections in late May or early June.
"The GAB will keep us informed, but barring any legal challenges, we expect elections late this spring or early this summer," she said.
Vos charges recall organizers with costing taxpayers the maximum amount of money because they waited so long to file their initial petitions.
"No one looked at the calendar and thought about trying to line things up with scheduled elections to save money," he said.
But Zielinski disputes this.
"The big lie is that they control the timeline with challenges, and that means delays. We're going to have a number that is beyond any logical or reasonable challenge," he said. "If they care about the taxpayers, drop any challenges and let the process proceed. Time is the only thing that Walker has because if the election were held today, Walker and (Rebecca) Kleefisch would be collecting their unemployment checks."
Vos is almost certain there will be a primary in a gubernatorial recall election, and Zielinski didn't disagree, but he wouldn't name any names on potential candidates.
"We have a strong bench of candidates, and the people will decide through the primary process," he said.