The Wisconsin State Budget Question: Who Has a Backbone?

Clockwise: Chironex Fleckeri, Governor Jim Doyle, State Senator Mark Miller, State Representative Mark Pocan.

Clockwise: Chironex Fleckeri, Governor Jim Doyle, State Senator Mark Miller, State Representative Mark Pocan.

Things have been tough with Wisconsin budget and are even tougher after revenue estimates came up about $1.5 billion short.

The talk from Governor Jim Doyle is now of more cuts, layoffs, pay cuts, and furloughs.

Like George H. W. Bush, Doyle suckered himself into a “no new taxes” pledge years ago. Unlike Bush Sr, Doyle hasn’t had the wisdom or the courage to back away from that position. There are a couple of small exceptions like cigarettes and a slight income tax bump in his most recent biennial budget proposal (you know, the one that uses the stimulus money for a big chunk of the school funding and shifts almost all of the revenue cap increase to property taxes), but Doyle has consistently resisted even things like extending the sales tax to personal services. Doyle also seems perfectly satisfied in ignoring the pledges of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to “fully fund” educational mandates. This isn’t backbone, it is boneheaded.

Charity Eleson of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF) has the right idea:

“We recognize that the shortfall has become massive and that painful cuts are necessary,” said WCCF Executive Director Charity Eleson. “However, the enormity of the deficit demands that we take a balanced approach to filling the gap. It would be a serious mistake not to include revenue increases in the plan.”

….“We therefore call on policymakers to include revenue increases in the mix as they work to address the budget shortfall. Options such as reducing the tax break on capital gains—currently the most generous in the nation—and reinstating the estate tax, to name just a couple, would help minimize the devastating impact of the state’s revenue problems on the children and families least able to weather the bad economy.”

We’ve had too many years of failed policies; too many years of looking for short term gains and savings instead of seeking a balanced approach to sustainable taxation and investment. This economic crisis should be a wake up call. Trying to cut our way out of this crisis will only extend the failure; Wisconsin needs to begin building for the future again.

The WCCF has joined with the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future to research and publish a Catalog of Tax Reform Options for Wisconsin. Urge your state officials to give consideration to these ideas for moving Wisconsin toward fairer, more sustainable revenue sources to fund the investments our state needs.

Two of the key players are Joint Finance Co-Chairs, Representative Mark Pocan of Madison and Senator Mark Miller of Monona. There is a small glimmer of hope, a hint of some backbone, in their recent statements.

The Capital Times recently reported:

Budget committee co-chairman Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said he wouldn’t rule out any measure to close the shortfall, including the measures proposed by Doyle and possible additional tax increases.

WisPolitics.com quotes Miller saying similar things:

Miller said that there’s only so deep you can cut to programs at a time state residents are struggling and that all avenues should be open, “including the need to look at perhaps revenue increases.”

Miller also said he would “like to look at closing more tax loopholes that remain.” Unfortunately, “he does not anticipate Dem lawmakers proposing an across-the-board sales tax increase.” If you think this or other revenue options are viable ideas, let Pocan and Miller and all the state officials know how you feel.

The WisPolitics.com story also quotes GOP Representative Robin Vos, as saying “he doesn’t think Democrats ‘have the wherewithal’ to make the tough choices necessary to cut spending and balance the budget without raising taxes.”

Vos gets it wrong. In this political climate, it doesn’t take much backbone to cut programs and layoff workers. What takes real courage is to change the conversation and the dynamic, to proudly raise the taxes that need raising, compassionately provide for the people who are suffering and wisely invest in the things like education which will assure a prosperous future for Wisconsin. That takes backbone and heart.

I hope our state officials find that backbone and that heart. You can help by reminding them of what needs to be done. Only they can answer the quiz at the top.

Thomas J. Mertz

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1 Comment

Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Budget, education, Local News, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized

One response to “The Wisconsin State Budget Question: Who Has a Backbone?

  1. Jackie Woodruff

    Posted: May 11, 2009 11:45 PM CDT from WKOWTV (video available)
    http://www.wkowtv.com/global/story.asp?s=10344183

    Budget cuts could impact schools

    MADISON (WKOW)– Governor Jim Doyle met with about 15 of the state’s education leaders today to warn schools about the state’s finances.

    Jeff Angileri talked with Madison superintendent Dan Nerad about the private meeting.

    Madison school superintendent Dan Nerad says he saw it coming — the Wisconsin budget crunched for money, and state leaders looking to fill the gap.

    “It was a good discussion we had with the Governor,” said Dan Nerad. “Obviously were all concerned as we know our parents are, our students are, our tax payer are. This is not an easy time.”

    Nerad says the Governor offered no specifics — no numbers, no dollar amounts, no dates of any kind.

    “We need that data as soon as possible to be able to know where we are relative to next year’s budget to the district,” said Nerad.

    Nerad says there are deadlines to meet if they need to cut jobs.

    “As time goes on our options become lessened, because you’re passed dates and time where you notice people of layoffs,” said Nerad.

    Whatever the cuts and adjustments may be, Nerad wants to limit the impacts on classrooms.

    “It’s obviously disheartening news, but hopefully over the next several months as a country, we’ll look toward better times, and hopefully we’ll see some better times ahead,” said Nerad.

    Just last week, the Madison school board passed a preliminary budget of $368 million for the next school year.

    The final budget is due in October. That gives the district 4 and half months to plan for cut backs.

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