Recipe for Disaster(s), Or the Wisconsin Democrats’ Fall Agenda

I just read the release and memo on the Democratic agenda for the Fall legislative session.  The agenda is  a recipe for disasters.

The disaster that matters to most of us in the state is already in progress as school districts cut programs and services while raising property taxes at rates that have not been seen for years (read this report from Kenosha, look at Rhinelander); as municipalities trim essential services, cut investments that would lead to recovery and growth while also raising property taxes  and fees (here is the latest from Eau Claire); and counties axe public safety and  safety net programs, close nursing homes and like everybody else, raise property taxes and fees (here is a recent report on Dane County).  This Fall budget season is bad; the 2010-11 will be worse if there isn’t bolder action from the state.

The disaster that probably matters most to the Democratic leadership will come in the 2010 elections.  Their vulnerable members will lose if all they bring back to the voters is window dressing campaign finance reforms and tougher drunk driving laws (this isn’t quite fair, some of  the agenda is good — Green Jobs in particular –,  but it is not anywhere near sufficient to meet the crises we are facing).  Even the Democrats in “safe seats” (like in Madison) may well find themselves surprised by challengers from the left who demand better and bolder action.

I don’t care what their polling says, they need to take their heads out of the sand and look around at what is happening with the schools, with the counties, with the cities and most of all with the families they claim to be “Standing Up” for.  They need to look beyond November 2010 and act in the long term interests of our still great state.  Mostly they need to recognize that the revenue and budgeting assumptions they have been working from cannot be sustained.

Some realize this.  Representative Cory Mason is proposing a jobs program funded by higher taxes on those earning over $1 million annually.  A “Save Our Services” campaign has started, seeking to fund essential services via an expanded sales tax base (info on the October 1 Madison rally here).  Last night the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education voted unanimously in support of a resolution calling for a sales tax increase dedicated to school funding.  This idea is the focus of a “Pennies for Kids” campaign that the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools is in the process of initiating (this is just beginning, stay tuned).

Many of us would like to see even broader changes in our state’s taxation, budgeting and investment policies, but something has to be done to meet the crisis and these are good steps.  the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future and Wisconsin Council on Children and Families Catalog of Tax Reform Options for Wisconsin is still the best place to begin thinking about revamping the entire system in order to achieve adequacy, equity and sustainability.

If the Democrats stick with their “do little or nothing” agenda, the crises will grow all around the state and come back to hit them hard in November 2010.  When that happens they will have no one to blame but themselves.  With power comes responsibility, with failure of effort and accomplishment comes accountability.

One closing observation:  There is nothing in the Democratic agenda about Governor Jim Doyle’s “Scramble for the Crumbs”/ Race to the Top package.  I hope this indicates that many in the party are too smart to sell what is left of  their souls for a lottery ticket in a rigged game where the payoff is one-time funding far below the needs of our schools ($80 million is what I hear).

Thomas J. Mertz

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2 Comments

Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Budget, education, Elections, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Recipe for Disaster(s), Or the Wisconsin Democrats’ Fall Agenda

  1. Belleville

    [Please note that an exception was made to the AMPS Commenting Etiquette use of full, real names requirement because this commenter offered a compelling reason for anonymity. TJM]

    I could’nt agree more. But you must remember, Madisons first priority is much like an addict, protect what we have as it is. A non-partisan myself, they might consider a full evaluation of how Wisconsin does what it does and serves the people through its processes. So much bloating through additional budget requests has brought the state to its knees and we will stay there for some time. Its time to consider what a structural, organizational change and its implications mean for the greater good of all. This of course, never gets considered, ever. It would require change and that is just not the Madison way.

  2. Lukas at “Forward Our Motto” and has some good thoughts on the matters raised in this post.

    I can’t say I disagree with him, but think that part of the Democratic calculation has to include an awareness that A)In many of the swing districts, if the voter priority is service and tax cuts, they will vote Republican, B) The relatively small state tax increases enacted at the state level are being accompanied by relatively large tax increases from local government and service cuts — the worst (or nearly, because the GOP cuts would be larger) of both worlds, and C)Madison is one of the few places where a challenge from the Left is possible and this challenge would not gain any traction if we saw our representatives pushing back against the mostly status quo agenda, even if they pushed back in vain.

    We just want our representatives to — you know — represent us (and not some polling based, running scared, “good of the party” agenda).

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