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A recall election to oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker from office would cost at least $9 million, according to data state election officials released Friday.
The state Government Accountability Board asked local election clerks around the state to estimate the costs of a possible statewide recall election based on elections in November 2010 and April 2011. All 72 county clerks reported back with a total estimate of $2.35 million. About 92 percent of the state's municipal clerks responded with a total estimate of $5.82 million. The GAB estimated its costs at $841,349.
The board estimated its costs at about $652,700 in November. Since then, though, the board has secured additional office space to process recall petition signatures and a Waukesha County judge has ordered the board to actively scour the signatures for fraud, a task the board has left to political parties in the past. The judge's decision alone means $100,000 in additional software and technical support costs, GAB Director Kevin Kennedy noted in a memo.
Walker triggered a firestorm last year when he introduced a bill that stripped most public workers of almost all their collective bargaining rights. Walker said he needed to make the move to help close the state's $3.6 billion deficit. Democrats saw it as a blatant attack on unions, one of their key constituencies.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the measure and Walker signed it into law in March despite weeks of around-the-clock protests at the state Capitol. Now Democrats and their allies want payback.
Last summer they forced nine GOP state senators into recall elections, defeating two of them. Now they've launched efforts to recall the governor, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four more Republican state senators. The group pushing to recall Walker announced last month they had collected 507,000 of the 540,208 signatures they need by Jan. 17 to force an election.
GAB Director Kevin Kennedy cautioned that Friday's numbers are estimates and election costs can vary. Republicans still pounced on the numbers, saying the state can't afford recall after recall.
Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, co-chairman of the Legislature's powerful finance committee, asked for the statewide data from the GAB. He pointed out the estimates cover only one statewide general election and don't include a primary. If one statewide election costs $9 million, it stands to reason that a primary would push the price tag to $18 million, Vos said.
A Kleefisch recall -- which, like a Walker recall, could include both a statewide primary and general election -- would drive those costs even higher.
Election officials in the four Republican senators' districts would incur additional costs. Last summer's Senate recalls cost $2 million, according to GAB data.
"People cannot say this is somehow worth the cost to have these frivolous recalls," Vos said. "It's a shame we've come to this. People around the state will have to make choices about what to cut to have these elections. Somebody's going to pay for this and it's going to be taxpayers."
State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate portrayed the recall costs as the "best down payment" people can make for Wisconsin's future.
"We simply can't afford to have Scott Walker as governor of Wisconsin one day longer than we have to," Tate said.