In what was probably the ugliest deliberative (?) process in Wisconsin history, the legislature finally passed a Budget Repair Bill in early July. The wispolitics.com website includes a complete archive of budget documents and reactions. Most of the reactions presented in the major State media have featured Madison or Milwaukee based pundits and insiders, as well as members of the legislature. I thought it would be helpful to get some reactions from Fox Valley area citizens with an interest in policy and politics. The reactions are presented in the order in which they were received. Additional contributions and/or responses are enthusiastically welcomed. Please email them to me at Palmeri@uwosh.edu--Tony Palmeri
Mike Norton: Politicians only listen to power brokers
My impression that this budget does not solve the problem at all, in fact there still is a structural deficit that looms. Also using all the Tobacco settlement money to help out out state budget problems is making us a laughing stock of the nation.
While the budget fix does not touch Shared Revenue to Locals this year it is being cut in the future. The politicians at the state level should revisist the Kettl Commission recommendations, but will not for they only listen to the concerns of the power brokers. The Dems listen to WEAC and Trial Lawyers and the GOP to WMC and the Realtors.
The budget was done in the back room giving too much power to so few and in the end not solving anything. The horse trading going back and forth and those legislators voting the party line is a disgrace.
I am disgusted with Chvala and Jensen. I would like to get more info on the new Wisconsin Party.
Mike Norton is a Winnebago County Supervisor representing District 20.
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Don Wyman: We are about to take a step 20 years backward
You should get to the President of the firefighters, and get his opinion of how many people will die unnecessarily because of the shortage of EMTs the budget will create, and the Teacher's union, to see how children will be deprived of good educations because of the increase in class sizes due to teacher shortages, or a member of AFSCME who will tell you of the decline in care for the mentally ill and aged persons because of budget-cutting by the counties. Or the harm to our children's educational opportunies due to the closing down of Library facilities. None of this addresses the lack of snow removal and road repair that will ensue as crews are cut to save money. We are about to take a step about 20 years backward in programs that make this a healthier and more educated society, because of one man's lying about the state of the state and our financial situation. Now that he is gone, his successor has to cut all the corners he can to keep the state from bankruptcy. It is difficult to imagine that he spent 15 years as second in command and knew so little about government affairs.
Don Wyman is past-President of the Winnebago County Labor Council
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Mark Habeck: It's Time...
A lack of both discipline and idealism are at the heart of Wisconsin's budget crisis. The budget did not accidentally fall short a billion dollars and change this year, but rather was a result of elected officials (from both parties) over the past several years focusing on today at the expense of tomorrow.
The most outrageous example of this is using the tobacco settlement money as a quick fix to this year's budget. They've focused again on today, but what of tomorrow? What corporate industry will they sue for a fast settlement to fix next year's budget? Not to mention the money needed to replenish the tobacco settlement so that it can be used as intended on tobacco issues.
The discipline to say no, question party lines, and do what is in the best interests of the citizenry has been, to a large extent, lost. Instead the political games of being re-elected and damage control of scandals take precedence over government doing for citizens what they cannot do for themselves.
We've lost sight of government by the people and for the people. Instead, we've turned it into government by the politicians and for the parties. It's time to return to a government that selflessly seeks to put the citizen above the party. It's time to realize that power lies not in a party, or even a majority, but in the citizens. It's time for a fundamental refocus on the nature of government and its purpose. Perhaps more than anything, it's a time for the citizens of Wisconsin to use their power to affect these changes.
Where did the idealism of the Founding Fathers go? Serving the community as an elected official, selflessly putting aside personal ambition to do what is right for the community, and then having the discipline to do what is right need to be reinstated in Wisconsin government. Any budget "fix" will only be temporary until we deal with these root problems.
Mark Habeck is a 1996 graduate of UW-Oshkosh with a speech communication major and is currently employed as a police officer with the Winnebago County Sheriff's Department.
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Teresa Thiel: Irresponsible!
I guess I can sum up my thought in one word . . . irresponsible. From what I gather the only significant cut that was made was made to the UW-System. I think that should be one of the last places to cut, not the first. How long before a whole section of people can no longer afford higher education?
The most irresponsible action of course is using all the tobacco money to "fix" this budget. That is like taking your entire college fund to pay off your credit card bill for one month, knowing that next month the bill will be even larger. How can that even be considered as an option? Even the proposal that "no bill can be adopted that would cause expenses to exceed revenues" won't take affect until 2005. Why such a delay?
I saw nothing in what I read to say that the legislature themselves are cutting back. I think they should cut their office budgets in half (I imagine that would save a significant amount of money) and perhaps a pay cut is in order... or maybe they don't get paid until the budget is balanced.
I would hope that this election will bring about many new faces who are prepared to actually deal with these major issues and not just push them off down the road. I don't understand why it took so many months to come up with a plan that does little more than steal all the tobacco money and use it as a very short term fix.
Teresa Thiel is an elected member of the Oshkosh Area School District Board of Education
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Melanie Bloechl: DON'T PEE ON MY SHOE AND TELL ME IT'S RAINING!!!
First Congratulations, The Oshkosh Northwestern is now using a Public Access, show like (yours) as a news source. Could it be that the good people of Oshkosh can dispense with the futile purchase of the Northwestern and go directly to the source of accurate, timely and truthful coverage of the events in and around Oshkosh?!
Last, but certainly not least. You had emailed and asked for my response to the "Repair Budget" that was recently passed, by both the Senate and Assembly.
I will keep my comment short and sweet! These people that have supported this disgraceful piece of trash, and have the gaul to tout this as good public policy and responsible leadership should be proclaimed as the lying thieves that they are.
They have raped and pillaged this State's future, looked you all in the eye, smiled and lied to get re-elected, because ladies and gentlemen that is ALL THAT MATTERS, the heady power. DON'T PEE ON MY SHOE AND TELL ME IT'S RAINING!!!
What will it take for this community to wake up and smell the RAT(S)? It is election time and these people think that you are all idiots, and for the most part we've proven them right. These same liars have been in office for years spending like some unchecked GAMBLER-OHOLIC! You know the ones Mrs. Roessler has so much disdain for (no casinos in my district) but is right in there passing budgets that do nothing to stop the special interest influence or the grossly irresponsible spending habits that plague MADISON.
Unless we pay attention, cut through their "crap-o-la" and get past the spin and to the truth, every single one of us that votes again for these same liars deserves to be broke and out of work in a State in DEEP debt. Because we let this happen again!!
GOD SPARE US FROM WISCONSIN'S LACK OF LEADERSHIP.
Melanie Bloechl is a former member of the Oshkosh Common Council (including two years as Mayor)
Note from Tony: A good site to find cliches like "Don't pee . . ." can be found here.
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Chris Lee: We Can Do Better
I'll admit at the outset that I don't know many of the details of the proposed state budget compromise approved by the state assembly on July 8 and sent to the Governor. But some key points should cause us all concern.
I am glad that local governments will not lose their shared revenues from the state, at least not right away. However, reports say the budget plan calls for cutting four percent of the money the state returns to municipalities and counties beginning in 2004. While I'm sure there are exceptions, my sense is that the closer you are to a local level, the more accountable and frugal government bodies are. After all, police and fire and garbage pick-up are services people regularly see in action, and it is probably easier to spot waste. However, a four percent cut down the road is better than the original idea of completely eliminating shared revenue.
I am very disappointed our elected officials decided to use the roughly $825 million remaining in tobacco lawsuit settlement proceeds to help the state out of this budget mess.
While the effectiveness of anti-smoking efforts is questionable, using that money to make up for bad budgeting in previous years is irresponsible. Just a few years back, everybody was clamoring about what to do with the budget "surplus" when times were good. The problem is, that like many of us, the state can't resist spending it all. What's worse, they started programs with recurring costs, apparently with little concern about how those programs would be funded in future years. It'd be as if you or I got a $200 Christmas bonus, and spent it on a $40 per month satellite TV subscription without thinking about how we'd pay for it once the bonus was used up. Next came the current revenue shortfall and the resulting problems of how to pay for everything and where to cut.
What's worse, the decisions in the current plan don't put the state on track for a responsible future from here out. According to an Associated Press article on the WISC-TV 3 [Madison] Web site, if some analysts' predictions are correct "the state could face a $2.8 billion deficit in the next two-year budget because spending commitments would outpace current revenue." That is even if the current budget "fix" is adopted. This would make the $1.1 billion shortfall of this budget seem like small potatoes.
We can do better.
Chris Lee was Commentary's first producer back in the early 1990s. He now directs Leemark Communications.
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Tom Kees: We Need a More Progressive Way of Taxing and Spending
I have to admit, I’ve not yet actually seen the new proposed State Budget, but I do listen to Wis. Public Radio, and have heard a fair amount on what’s going on. Suffice then to give a few general opinions about how I think things could be going, to the betterment of the masses.
We certainly have a big problem. Specifically how we got into this mess is a matter of debate: bottom line is we spent more than we have. Here are some of my views on how to improve for the future.
First of all, I’m really saddened that the tobacco settlement money will be used to help solve this year’s budget problem. This is also only a one time fix. We will most certainly reap the negative consequences in terms of increased medical costs down the line, instead of having used the money as intended, to educate about the dangers of tobacco, and help people quit.
It seems to me that we have some opportunities to move toward a more progressive way of taxing and spending. I think the idea of consolidating some municipal services, where it is obvious that duplication exists, is a sound one. Leave it up to the local governments to decide how this will be done, and have a reward system for those that accomplish it.
Due to privatization efforts and a much tougher sentencing structure in our prison system, we have a bloated need for dollars for prisons costing way over the initial estimates, and the costs of personnel and administration to oversee a staggeringly high number of people in jail. Many of these people would benefit from drug and alcohol rehabilitation instead of locking them up for relatively minor offenses, some because of our insane war on drugs. These folks will be getting out someday; will they be prepared? Focusing on treatment would save a lot of money in the future.
Wisconsin has been on a roadbuilding craze for some time now. I realize some new roads are necessary, but we have to use foresight and remember that these roads will need to be maintained. We have roads in need of repair, and are still proceeding with new costly building projects. When you expand or build new roads, in addition to making them safer, it encourages sprawl. This increases the need for expanded services, and can undermine a healthy tax base in more urban areas. Will Wisconsin end up losing our rural character, and become another string of strip malls and subdivisions? We could save millions of dollars by more closely examining the need for more roads. As long as the roadbuilders remain heavy hitters with campaign contributions, we are on the way to becoming more like the places that people are escaping from, to come enjoy Wisconsin.
Which brings to mind another way to raise more revenues. Tax large businesses more. Drop the machinery and computer credits for firms that are “able” to afford it. Tax pollution. Give tax breaks to companies that install closed loop systems for their processes, and tax the pollution from those that pollute. Give tax incentives to companies that use alternative energy sources. Our state has a lot to offer. I don’t buy the argument that higher business taxes and regulation will necessarily force away, or keep away, companies that want to locate here. I believe that quality of life issues remain the primary reason people locate in a certain area. We can be proud of our strong labor force, respected as being highly skilled and motivated. Wisconsin has great opportunities for outdoor recreation. Companies know this, and it is in their best interest to do business where good workers will put them at the top, and where the workforce enjoys a high quality of life.
More abstractly, look at the larger picture in terms of how decisions at the Federal level affect our state. We must get some tough campaign finance reform in place, thereby giving a more level playing field for the average person to be he heard. Our budget is affected by the special interests’ influence over the Governor and “the process”. By passing strong publicly funded campaign finance reform, we will not only save money here, but also set an example, in the progressive tradition of Wisconsin, to the rest of the nation.
Let’s also do away with inserting all kinds of other items into the budget that have nothing to do with money concerns. Like, how about dealing with Ashley Furniture’s desire to fill in wetlands with enforcing laws already on the books?
The wish list could also include, expanding health care coverage for those in need; replacing the tobacco settlement money; reducing taxes for low to moderate income households; and investment in mass transit systems in urban areas, and incentives to use them...etc.
The budget problem is surely a big one. We have an opportunity to adopt a more progressive way of looking at the problem, scaling back spending on things that negatively affect the environment; and focus instead on a more sustainable way of doing things.
Tom Kees lives in Neenah, WI. He is a member of the Lake Winnebago Green Party and the Clean Water Action Council.
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Tony Palmeri: Another Piece of the Thompson-Era Legacy
In November of 1997 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a lengthy five-part series called "Money and Influence Inside the Thompson Administration." Reporters Steve Schultze and Dan Bice in their eight-month investigation found " . . . a trend in which donors and well-connected firms enjoy a close and mutually beneficial relationship with the Thompson administration." But the problem went beyond Thompson: "'You don't pay, you don't play,' said a veteran lobbyist, speaking of state government generally, including the governor and legislators." Rob Zaleski echoed similar themes in his "Power vs. People: How did Wisconsin lose its Democracy" series for the Madison Capital Times in July of 2001. These and other investigative pieces--such as those presented by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and Common Cause--establish beyond any reasonable doubt that Wisconsin State government is now about as clean as the Woodstock '99 porta-johns (about which rock journalist Otto Luck said "Think of the most disgusting thing you've ever seen and multiply it by a thousand and that's what it was like").
But the "pay to play" debasement of our government is only one nasty part of the Thompson-era legacy. An equally nasty part concerns the condition of public discourse in our State. In a clean government state, where government is guided by a system of checks and balances and the average person can participate meaningfully in that system, public policy options are framed according to utilitarian principles centered on doing "the greatest good for the greatest number." In a Woodstock '99 porta-john state, where government is guided by a system of pay to play and the average person is left smelling the aroma, public policy options are framed according to quid pro quo principles centered on doing "the greatest good for the biggest contributors."
We saw how this worked during the Thompson years. We "had to" support tax breaks for big business in order to remain "competitive." Road building was talked about in almost spiritual terms, as if future generations will stare in awe at a highway project the way we do at Egyptian pyramids. Budget-busting prison building projects and creating a prison population four times the size of neighboring Minnesota became necessary for "public safety." A government that would not dare say the "tax" word when it comes to supporting general purposes was able to get "special" taxes passed to support the building of Miller Park and the renovation of Lambeau Field.
In this view of the world, CEOs, road builders, construction interests, and the professional sports lobby are all basically decent people contributing much to the economic, social, and cultural vitality of the state. Whatever they gain from the budget is fully earned and represents a "wise and necessary investment" for the State.
But then there are the those who have "grown dependent" on taxpayer dollars. With them we need to practice "tough love" and wean them off the public dole. The Thompson era gave us the Wisconsin Welfare Queen who had baby after baby just to keep increasing the size of the welfare check; the out of control public school teachers who must be kept in check with a "qualified economic offer"; the spoiled high school seniors and college students who don't appreciate that even with steady tuition increases to make up for less State support, the "UW System is still a bargain; " the selfish public employees who expect health benefits as well as annual raises that at least keep pace with the cost of living.
Let us never forget that Governor Thompson could never have succeeded in framing issues this way without substantial help from the Democratic Party and editorial boards across the state.
When Scott McCallum made the elimination of the State's shared revenue program the centerpiece of his budget repair proposal, he was operating completely in sync with policy and rhetorical norms established during the Thompson era. The local government "big spenders" became the new "welfare queens," irresponsible and pathological beings with no sense of shame for the "burden" they are on taxpayers. These "Shared Revenue Kings and Queens" were able to fight back and save the program for at least another year, but there does seem to have developed a bipartisan consensus that the shared revenue program as we have know it is history. Another progressive era reform down the drain. Prediction: shortly after election day the Shared Revenue Kings and Queens will be told that they will have to raise local sales taxes to make up for shared revenue losses.
So there you have it: The Budget Repair fiasco was nothing more than the Thompson era legacy at work, with the Madison power brokers maintaining control of the government apparatus and the framing of public policy, while the local government big spenders and public employees generally assumed the role of the welfare queen.
Can't wait to see what kind of "reforms" follow a $30 million race for governor!
Tony Palmeri is co-host of Commentary.
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Cheryl Hentz: Disgraceful and Irresponsible
The budget repair bill recently passed by the state Assembly is a disgrace and the actions of those who supported it are both disgraceful and irresponsible. The things wrong with the bill are far more involved than I can cover here. While some portions of the measure may have merit, the problems caused by its passage far outweigh the "good" our legislators say it will do. As everyone knows, using the tobacco settlement money to "cure" the billion dollar deficit is not a viable solution. Rather, it is a lazy approach and short-term fix to a problem that will be even worse when the legislature takes up the next biennium budget next year. And there won't be any tobacco money for the next or future budgets. Using the tobacco money now amounts to nothing more than robbing Peter to pay Paul. Well, Peter's pocketbook is now empty -- for good.
I am disappointed in those 50 representatives who voted for the bill's passage. I am especially ashamed of those who did not think the bill was all that great to begin with, but voted for it anyway.
Representative Gregg Underheim was quoted by the local mainstream media as saying that the bill's passage now would provide an opportunity for he and his colleagues in the Assembly to work harder on the budget woes after this November's election. That's the wrong attitude to have. Mr. Underheim seems to have forgotten that he was elected two years ago to work for taxpayers during this term. Instead he is busying himself working to get re-elected. With any luck, he will not be given another term in which to "work harder" on the budget issues.
Rep. Carol Owens said prior to the vote being taken that she would support the measure, but only if party leadership was convinced it had enough votes to pass it. Otherwise, she said, she would not waste a vote. Another irresponsible comment by someone who appears to be busy playing politics, rather than being a responsible elected public servant. Owens went on to say she would have to hold her nose and "choke back the gagging" when voting on the measure. Since the bill needed 50 votes to pass and it passed with JUST 50 votes, Owens -- and others like her -- could have made a real difference in defeating this bill. Instead of choking and gagging why didn't Owens and her colleagues follow former First Lady Nancy Reagan's words of wisdom and "just say 'no.'" Then maybe some real budget work could have been done and these politicians might be worthy of being re-elected. Instead, it appears they are too busy trying to KEEP their jobs that they either don't have time or aren't willing to take the time necessary to DO their jobs.
I only pray that voters use more common sense and better judgment at the polls this September and November than the current elected officials used in voting on this ridiculous piece of "legislation." Whether these folks get re-elected or not remains uncertain right now. What is certain, however, is that we're going to be in a hell of a mess when the budget is next taken up and we're all going to pay a hefty price tag then.
An Oshkosh native, Cheryl Hentz serves on the Oshkosh Board of Zoning Appeals and Citizens Advisory Committee. A journalist by profession, she has twice run for Winnebago County Board and is co-host of "Eye on Oshkosh," a weekly show debuting on Oshkosh's cable access Channel 10 in the Fall.
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Dan Rylance: Madison minorities took a hike on the Wisconsin budget fix
A veteran legislator told me a long time ago that everyone who is elected to that august body should serve in the minority. When I asked him for how long, he replied, "at least once." Since he was serving in the majority and I was in the minority I thought his answer provided my party some hope.
The long hot summer debacle of the attempt to solve Wisconsin's $1.1 billion shortfall reminded me of that 25 year old discussion. Senate Republicans, who find themselves in the minority, voted unanimously against the budget repair fix. Assembly Democrats, who are also in the minority, voted unanimously against the same bill passed by the Senate Democrats. If you are looking for what separates a Wisconsin Republican from a Wisconsin Democrat don't look to Madison for the answer . It seems unbelievable that Republican Senator Carol Roessler of Oshkosh, who blames the Democrats for everything that has transpired since Creation, could ever support anything that Adam's party supports. Yet, she voted no in the Senate as did her partisan enemies in the Assembly. Who said politicans don't make strange bed fellows?
What really gives? The answer in my opinion is minority irresponsibility. Minority Republicans in the Senate and minority Democrats in the Assembly can say loudly and with a unanimous chorus that the 2002 Wisconsin budget fix stinks and that they are not going to vote for it. Period. So do some minority newspapers. Take the Oshkosh Northwestern, for example. They seconded Roessler's diatrabe against the budget repair bill. It was a dog that couldn't hunt and it should be shot and put out of its misery.
It would be intellectually challenging (politcally challenging as well) to ask all these Monday morning quarterbacks to submit their proposal to solve the $1.1 billion dollar shortfall. Here are some things, however, that none of them did propose. First, no one proposed taking the Wisconsin tobacco settlement off the table. Well, maybe a few but not very many. Roessler never did before she had to say something to explain her vote against the budget bill. Oshkosh Northwestern editorials certainly did not beat the drums to spend the money for what it was legally supposed to be spent for. So if you want to find the money without spending the tobacco money how does one do it? There are only two ways and both are absent from the Wisconsin political process. The first is to cut spending and the second is to raise taxes.
The only person who addressed really cutting spending was Governor Scott McCallum. Whatever happened to his initiative to end shared revenue? Did anyone hear Roessler speak up for that spending cut? Did anyone read an Oshkosh Northwestern editorial that endorsed the Governor's proposal? What about the other side of the ledger? Raise taxes. Has anyone ever heard Roessler say she supports any tax increase?(Someone told me that Roessler said she would move back to Oshkosh before she would ever vote for a tax increase) Can anyone name a tax increase that the Northwestern supports?
So let's look carefully at the minority budget plan. Don't take the tobacco settlement off the table. It's okay to spend it but object to it being spent to cover the shortfall in the final bill. Don't propose any significant spending cuts and certainly not shared revenue. Finally refuse to raise any taxes.
See how easy it is for everyone in the minority to vote no on the final bill and to say it stinks? Of course, it stinks. It ignores protecting the tobacco money, really cutting spending and raising taxes except for tuition to pay salary increases for those employed in higher education. But the odor is just as strong from Senate Republican and Assembly Democrats who did nothing to make it a better bill. Voting No is always easier than trying to make a bad bill better. Finally, considering it took 90 days to produce a bad bill, does any legislator who voted no have any idea how long it would take to draft another one?
There is still one more fact. Politics are played on a fickle field of short memories. Few will remember why the minority in both parties voted No. Instead, those same minority members will tell voters that they were right because they voted against a bad bill and will remind all of us that "they told us so." What they won't discuss, however, is their total lack of responsibility in trying to solve a real budget crisis and pass a better bill.
Rylance served in the North Dakota State Legislature and is a former editorial writer for Knight Ridder newspapers. He contributes frequently to Commentary.
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John S. Lemberger: Budget Tyranny
The Wisconsin state legislature presented to Governor McCallum a budget fix for this year that spends all of the tobacco settlement money. At the same time it ignores the even larger annual deficits looming in the next biennium. Why would our senators and assembly representatives, men and women of good sense, resort to this shortsighted solution?
We the people of the state of Wisconsin are living under a system of tyranny that makes it impossible for our representatives to do otherwise. They feel the tyranny more acutely than do we. They must deal with it everyday. This tyranny is subtle, but pernicious. It is draining both our spirit and our pocketbooks. Make no mistake about it though; it is tyranny. A tyranny as iron-fisted as that imposed on the German people in 1933. And so we have reached the point where we can no longer consider ourselves a free and democratic people.
The tyranny flows from large corporations. They have brought this on us by buying our state and national representatives. And they are glad for it. They have pushed the corporate income tax rate down to a flat 7.9%, and they have shot the tax code so full of loopholes that the ten largest Wisconsin corporations paid no taxes at all in 2000. On its website the Wisconsin Department of Commerce trumpets this as progress, "The result of these efforts is that the total tax burden on business in Wisconsin (as a ratio of business taxes to total state and local taxes) is among the lowest in the nation and is continuing to decline." The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance reveals that corporations now contribute only 4.6 percent of state general tax income. This is down from 11.3 percent twenty years ago. Big business is not paying its fair share of the state's operating expenses.
The tyranny flows from Wisconsin's extremely wealthy individuals, many of whom own those large corporations through investment portfolios. They have compressed the personal income tax brackets in Wisconsin to nearly a flat tax. The top bracket is 6.75%, barely a heartbeat above the lowest bracket (4.6%). A flat tax is their ultimate goal. The wealthy are not paying their fair share of the state's operating expenses. The result is a "structural" deficit.
The people of Wisconsin, in some vague way, feel the tyranny too. They feel it in the loss of services, or they feel it when they have to pay fees for service. A Wisconsin Public Radio/St. Norbert college survey reported in the spring of 2000 that about two-thirds of Wisconsin residents thought that upper-income individuals and corporations paid too little federal taxes. We know where the problem lies, and in a free and democratic society it would be easy to fix. But under the present state of tyranny a real solution is impossible.
You know how this brand of tyranny works. You learned it on the playground. Either the spoiled rich kid gets his way, or he takes his ball and goes home. Any suggestion of creating a new upper income tax bracket for wealthy individuals and/or corporations is met with the threat of moving their business elsewhere. That is tyranny, plain and simple.
It is time to reject his form of tyranny, and to once again live as a free and democratic people. We must have the courage to solve the budget deficit by doing the right thing: raising corporate tax rates, and closing the loopholes that allow corporations to pay no taxes. We must also create a new upper income tax bracket for personal income over $350, 000. This is a bold move that will require sacrifice. No mainstream politician has shown the courage to suggest this solution, even though two-thirds of Wisconsin residents would support them.
In the movie, Jerry Maguire, a successful sports agent stands up to an unethical and corrupt corporate-system that is abusive of athletes. The corporate-system retaliates against him leaving him with only one client and a loyal secretary. It's rough going for a while, but eventually the sports agent creates a new way of doing business that is ethical and successful. That is the challenge before us now.
If we demand, as we must, that wealthy individuals and corporations act responsibly and pay their fair share of state operating expenses, some will leave Wisconsin. These will be the tyrants. Their leaving will cause some immediate pain, but we are not without recourse. Wisconsin corporations that refuse a fair and ethical tax levy, and choose to leave the state should have their charters revoked. Corporations chartered outside of Wisconsin should have their Wisconsin certification revoked thereby ending their ability to do business in Wisconsin.
These suggestions are strong medicine, but the integrity of our democracy is at stake. We must act decisively to restore our spirits and protect our pocketbooks from unethical corporate actions. And we must remember that not all corporations will leave Wisconsin. Those that stay behind will be good corporate citizens. Together we can build a strong economy in Wisconsin suitable for a free and democratic people. We deserve no less.
John S. Lemberger is an Associate Professor of Curriculum & Instruction in the UW Oshkosh College of Education and Human Services
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Christopher A. Micklos: Leaders Got the Job Done
And now for something completely different: a contrary view on the state budget repair bill. Despite all the breast-beating and gnashing of teeth over the recently-passed state budget fix, has anyone stopped to think that perhaps it was the best that legislators could do in the current political environment?
After years of surplus after surplus, state government was facing a budget deficit for the first time in a political generation. And not only was there a deficit, it was a huge deficit: $1.2 billion! That's a significant hole to fill, and it left state leaders with two options: either plug the hole in the short term and try to make it through to the next budget, or make a radical changes in the state's taxing/spending ledger. In the end, they chose the former, managing to preserve education, health care, and local government funding; hold the line on taxes; and pass a comprehensive package of campaign finance reforms. When you stop to think about it, that's not really all that bad.
However, many observers have pummeled the budget repair bill and its authors for not changing the world, but how realistic is that?
After all, the legislature is divided, and both houses have very different priorities. The Republican-controlled State Assembly is fixated on maintaining the status quo in the tax system, because it favors corporate special interests and rich individuals. Their preference would be to take an axe to education funding (as they tried to with punitive cuts to the UW system in their version of the budget), leave local communities to fend for themselves, and minimize the reach and effectiveness of programs that help low-income families like SeniorCare, BadgerCare, and others.
By contrast, the Democrats who control the State Senate have rushed to the defense of those same programs that Assembly Republicans want to gut, and they see a long-term budget fix in restoring some semblance of fairness back to our tax system. By eliminating some corporate tax loopholes and restoring some progressivity to the system, they could eliminate the state's structural deficit, get our financial house in order, and perhaps even provide tax cuts to those who need them the most.
Those two solutions, though, are somewhat mutually exclusive, with each house of the Legislature radically opposed to the other house's ideal fix.
And Scott McCallum was in no position to lead the way on serious budget reform. Not only can he not claim any kind of mandate as an elected governor, but he is-for all intents and purposes-a lame duck, with no serious political observer making him a favorite to win the fall election. With those kinds of credentials, who would want him to take the lead on a major budget reform.
So that left state leaders with only one option: find a middle ground that could get us through the current crisis, and revisit a long-term budget fix next spring, after the voters have had their say.
It's not perfect, but sometimes you just have live to fight another day, and like it or not, our leaders got the job done.
Chris Micklos is a partner in Visuality Media Productions. He is a UW Oshkosh graduate and spent several years as Press Secretary for Senator Chuck Chvala.
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Jeffrey A. Schmidt: "Cooking the Books"
Unfortunately we are witnessing a time of greed, cheating, and unethical behavior in corporate America. That is not an indictment of all companies certainly, but lately we've seen more of our fair share of Enron, World.com and the like. The scam is relatively simple. Understate expenses, overstate revenue expectations, fool "The Street" into believing that your company is worth more than it actually is, makes more than it actually does, and you get people to invest. Unfortunately it's a house of cards built on lies and deceit, and we've all witnessed the results.
In Washington they are understandably scrambling to put greater criminal consequences to such behavior. I support those efforts, and believe they should be more "all-inclusive" than just Corporate America.
You see for years in Madison and Washington, our "Repre'spend'atives" and 'Spend'ators" (spelling intentional) have been playing this shell game with our tax dollars. They claim that there is more coming in and that they are spending less, but surprisingly there is a deficit. If the claims were true, how is that possible? Spentators or Represpendatives increase gasoline taxes with the promise of better roads, but something else comes up and takes the money. We win a settlement with tobacco companies the monies designated for anti-smoking programs and education. Now those funds are being used to solve a budget deficit. Why is nobody talking criminal penalties for those types of lies and deceit?
Budgeting is such a simple process, we all do it. You determine what you have coming in, and then you determine what you can spend. Unfortunately in Madison and Washington they do it ass backwards. They create self-perpetuating programs and bureaucracies, and then try to determine how to pay for them. Here's another scam we've seen locally. The story goes, "no new taxes," we will NOT raise your property tax rate. Then suddenly the "value" of your property jumps by an incredible amount, one that you could not conceivably get on the open market if you sold it, but that's the "value" the government gives it? Why? Because they can keep the tax rate the same (keep the promise) but generate more taxes because they increased the value! Pretty clever! If that were done by a CEO in Corporate America we would want him/her to go to jail!
I was asked to share some thoughts on the "budget compromise" that was worked out in Madison. The problem is there is no compromise, there is no budget, there are just a bunch of Represpendatives and Spendators that are spending our money like drunken sailors. I apologize in advance for not being "exact" in my quote, but I believe I have captured the essence… in a recent newspaper article, Spendator Carol Roessler of Oshkosh was quoted (again, maybe not exactly) as saying that we may have to face two very unappealing prospects; raising taxes or dramatically cutting expenses. Hello? When you don't have the money, dramatically cutting expenses is the ONLY logical and rational thing to do, and I would suggest that any alternative to CUTS is criminal and there ought to be a law!
I know what's wrong with the process, you know what's wrong with the process, but the problem is that the people who created the problems have to solve the problems. Would we let Arthur Anderson Consulting solve the problems of corporate accounting on Wall Street? You don't let someone who can't control their drinking be the bartender. Why do we let the people that can't control their spending do the budgeting? Appoint a committee of citizens, I'll volunteer. Give us the budget, show us the income and we'll make it work. Unfortunately there will be some losers, there are always are, because life isn't fair, and my Dad always taught me you can't have everything you want. But having "some" losers is better than having an ENTIRE state of losers, which is what we have now, while these spendaholics in Madison try to "cook the books." I don't like what's on the menu, it doesn't taste good, and I suggest we ask for our money back!
Jeff Schmidt is Market Manager for Cumulus Broadcasting Appleton/Oshkosh.
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Michelle Litjens: The government does TOO much as it is
Well, I can't say I like the budget too much either, but I also can't say that I have liked any budget Wisconsin has passed for the past 40 years. The government does TOO much as it is. That being said, I can say that the Republicans did a few things I support. And I have heard that it hasn't hit the Democrats yet as to exactly what they have agreed to give up.
Republicans have been fighting for state spending and employment caps for years - they got it. School choice - it's in there. From now on the state is prohibited from spending above the rate of personal income growth. Why not - we have to.
Reductions in the state bureaucracy are required. It is too bloated anyway. Granted reductions in DOA means reductions in federal matching dollars so now another state gets the money but we all know that the right thing is for the feds to cut their wasteful spending too. Starting in 2005, it will be against the law to create future spending commitments in excess of projected revenue growth. Also starting in 2005 they have statutorily prohibited structural deficits. This will all save us money in the future.
The Republicans also helped local governments control their costs by granting waivers from state mandates (hopefully this will affect mandatory recycling where the city pays to have recyclables dumped in the landfill).
With the budget as huge as it is, everyone is not going to be happy. Now, if they could just go to a part time legislature with 1/10 of the services provided, and drastic tax cuts, then at least I would be happy.
Michelle Litjens is Chair of the Winnebago County Republican Party
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