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