So What Are They Thinking?
By Charles J. Sykes
Here’s the most interesting political question of the year: why do Jim Doyle and the Democrats think they can get away with this budget?
The package rolling toward final approval is a grotesque fiscal, economic and political monster that not even a mother could love. Besides a few notable payoffs to favored special interests like the trial lawyers and the teachers union, it is a collection of uglies: massive tax and fee increases during a recession; slashes in law enforcement while releasing hundreds of felons from prison; gutting welfare reform; and tens of millions of dollars of pork, all cooked up behind closed doors and voted on in the middle of the night.
No money to catch child molesters, but cash for an opera house in Oshkosh.
How’s that going to look on a bumper sticker next year?
After 6 years of running state government, Doyle watched as a $5.5 billion budget deficit grew to $6.65 billion, but kept spending and taxing. After adamantly pledging that he would not raise taxes, Doyle and the Democrats are pushing a $3 billion tax increase, hammering businesses, investors, and job creators across the state, even as unemployment edges above 9%.
Not content with wealth redistribution, the budget also taxes telephones, ipod downloads, nursing home beds, smokers, and sick people. And we haven’t even gotten to the impact that the elimination of the QEO will have property taxes.
Under this budget drivers will not only pay higher gas taxes but also will see their car insurance jump by 40% because of provisions put in at the behest of trial lawyers, who at least are having a very good budget. Joint and several liability will allow them to target deep pockets regardless of responsibility.
If they can’t find a 30-second spot in that, the Dems want to release hundreds of “non violent” felons from the state prison system back into neighborhoods. Doyle’s list of criminals eligible for a get out of jail cards includes arsonists, drug dealers,, drunk drivers, and child molesters. Doubling down, Democrats also watered down the state’s surveillance of sex predators; and for good measure slashed the Department of Justice’s budget by 10 percent.
And then they voted to give illegal immigrants driver’s licenses and in-state tuition.
There is, in short, no lip stick glossy enough for this pig. So what could Doyle be thinking here?
For all its flaws, W2 remains popular; yet Doyle is eviscerating its key elements. Overwhelming majorities of voters oppose tax increases; and siding with felons over law enforcement has seldom been a political winner outside of certain wards in Madison and Milwaukee. Fiscally, the budget deepens the state’s deficit; economically, it kills jobs during a recession; and politically it alienates business, consumers, and taxpayers. Quite a trifecta the year before an election.
But, as of this writing, majority Democrats seem intent on moving ahead with the budget. That will require them to hold virtually all of their votes in both the senate and assembly, including the votes of legislators who ran as fiscal and social moderates. So we’re back to the original question: why do they think they can survive this budget?
Here are some possibilities:
*Doyle knows he can’t and is planning to pull the ripcord after signing it, leaving the saps in the legislature to twist slowly in the wind.
*Democrats actually believe their press and assume that Barack Obama’s popularity insulates them political blowback. Some Democrats may think that 2008 presaged the arrival of a permanent liberal majority and believe all the heavy breathing tomes on the death of the GOP, so figure they needn’t worry.
*They are counting on the cash and the trash: the casinos, the unions, and the trial lawyers are already being shaken down and Democrats may be counting on them to come up big. Sure Doyle may have been exposed as an incompetent manager and a political liar, but that’s nothing that a few million dollars of negative ads aimed at his GOP opponent can’t fix. Democrats are already mobilizing to smear either Scott Walker or Mark Neumann and they have the record to show that they can pull it off.
*They are counting on sleeping watchdogs. So far so good. Despite the drumbeat of ads aimed at various budget horrors, the mainstream media in Wisconsin has more or less let them off the hook; media coverage on the budget has vacillated between somnolent and brain dead; Democrats are hoping it stays that way. It probably will.
*They are counting on short attention spans and short memories. The election’s not until next year and… hey did you see Barack’s pecs????
*They can’t help themselves. Democrats have waited so long for this binge and owe so much to so many special interest groups they just…can’t….stop….themselves from spending, gouging, and partying.
*They are genuinely clueless. The process is after all, dominated by Madison liberals, who haven’t visited the real world since circa 1967, so maybe they just don’t know how this plays outside the Capitol.
*It’s the economy, stupid. As they huddle behind closed doors in the middle of the night, maybe Democrats tell themselves that the economy will come back in time for 2010 and that all will be forgiven. If it doesn’t, they probably figure they are toast anyway.
-June 4, 2009