Autumnal Follies

Consider the plump budget, the slow high-speed train and class-conscious Legos.

As John Keats would have appreciated, autumn in Wisconsin is a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness; it is, unfortunately, also the season when Wisconsin legislators, weary from the task of taxing and spending, turn to the minutiae of the bored politician.

Solons spent their time on a resolution that urged us to refrain from calling the swine flu..."swine flu," lest we offend the porcine community, and on urgent legislation to permit NFL team buses to blow through red lights on their way to Lambeau Field, lest linebackers suffer the indignity of waiting among the unwashed of Ashwaubenon.

It's here somewhere, I'm sure.

State bureaucrats spent much of the fall trying to explain such irritants as the missing DNA of 12,000 Wisconsin felons from the states criminal database; massive fraud in the Wisconsin Shares program; and why state governments attempt to consolidate its computer servers had cost $90.9 million - seven times more than the Doyle administration had estimated.

In a burst of common sense, the state's tourism folks also quietly shelved the widely mocked "Wisconsin: Live Like You Mean It" slogan and logo, which seemed to depict a state taxpayer being held upside by his ankles until all of the change in his pocket fell out.

All in all a bad season for logos. The Wisconsin Tourism Federation shamefacedly changed its acronym after it was mocked on a blog called Your Logo Makes Me Barf, which pointed out that the initials WTF had other (and unfortunate) connotations.

Some dates to remember.

June 29, 2009: Gov. Jim Doyle signs a new state budget that raised taxes and fees by more than $2 billion, raised spending by $3.6 billion, let property taxes jump by another $1.5 billion, and left the state with a structural deficit of upwards of $2 billion.

Sept. 22, 2009: The Tax Foundation drops Wisconsin from 38th to 42nd in a ranking of state business climates, largely on the basis of the higher taxes.

Sept. 24, 2009: Forbes magazine ranks the state even lower, saying that Wisconsin is now one of the three worst states in the country for business. In the Forbes list, Wisconsin dropped from 43rd in 2006 to 48th in a measurement that included costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life.

Oh wait, this stuff costs money.

If you require someone to buy something better than what they already have, it will generally cost them more money. That's clear enough, unless you are a member of the Wisconsin Legislature.

In a sop to the state's trial lawyers, the Legislature mandated that minimum accident coverage rise from $50,000 to $300,000. Despite warnings from insurers that requiring dramatically higher minimum coverage would cause rates to rise, the new state budget gave Wisconsin some of the highest mandatory car insurance standards in the country.

As surely as day follows night, car insurance rates went up, and consumers raised hell. But when confronted with the financial consequences of their actions, legislative Democrats professed both ignorance and innocence.

Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson told constituents that the higher rates had nothing whatsoever to do with the Legislature's decision, but were all the fault of the greedy insurance companies.

Economics 101, anyone?

Government first.

In October, Gov. Jim Doyle boasted that $680 million in federal stimulus spending had created or retained 8,284 jobs in Wisconsin. Three-fourths of the jobs were government jobs.

As the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute blog explained, The key word here is retained...because the state spent merely displaced state general funds, which had been used to pay for state government prior to the economic downturn. We believe the technical term is "shell game."

Choo-choo to nowhere.

Chicago failed to win the 2016 Olympics despite the personal plea of our Nobel Prize-winning president, but that did not dampen the governors enthusiasm for a high-speed train linking Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities.

Doyle's dream train, however, encountered a speed bump of inconvenient truth when the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, in conjunction with a UW-Madison journalism class, issued a report concluding that the plan was, well, half-baked." It would reach downtown Milwaukee, but stop nearly six miles shy of downtown Madison," the center noted. Despite the massive price tag, nobody knows how many people would ride.

And, adding insult to injury, the center pointed out that Doyle's high-speed train wasnt really high speed at all. "The description high speed," it noted, "is a misnomer." State transportation officials say the train likely would average about 70 mph the first few years. In other words, about the speed most people drive on the freeways right now.

Our out-of-touch legislators.

Who are these guys who blithely jack up the minimum wage and craft regulations that micromanage virtually every aspect of business? In his recent report on term limits, WPRI's own Christian Schneider painted a brief sketch of one of the Legislature's most powerful members, Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker:

"For nearly two decades, Decker hasn't had a boss, hasn't had to make a payroll, hasn't had to pay for his own health care, hasn't had to worry about the threat of government intervention killing his job, and hasn't had to fund any of his own retirement benefits - all while drawing a middle-class taxpayer-funded salary....

The last two elections, he's been opposed by a local oddball who had his name legally changed to 'Jimmy Boy' in order to sell 'Jimmy Boy's Frozen Pizzas.' Decker, a Democrat, won each election with roughly 68% of the vote. Yet freshmen entering college today werent alive the last time Decker held a job outside of state government."

Those oppressive Legos.

Elsewhere in these pages Sol Stern chronicles the ideological pedagogy of Milwaukees Robert Peterson. In addition to his efforts to propagandize the young, Peterson is an editor of the journal Rethinking Schools, which has featured a cover story warning of the dangers posed to sensitive young minds by the plastic building blocks known as Legos.

In a story headlined "Why We Banned Legos," the progressive educrats recount their horror as they realized that as the kids in their classes built stuff, the unwary tykes "were building their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys - assumptions that mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society - a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive. As we watched the children build, we became increasingly concerned...."

"We agreed that we want to take part in shaping the children's understandings from a perspective of social justice. So we decided to take the Legos out of the classroom."

I'm guessing they've also eliminated dodgeball.

Be civil, you bigoted redneck.

And as fall, that bosom-friend of the maturing sun, mellowed into winter, our chattering classes continued to lecture us on the need for more civility in political discourse.

The Journal Sentinel tsk-tsked over the "hooliganism" at the summer's town hall meetings, and Mike Tate, chair of the state Democratic Party, added his call for moderation and restored comity by labeling taxpayers who showed up at rallies as "extremist elements" who "frankly don't believe in this country."

Tate further declared: "They dont want to see more people have access to quality affordable health care; they dont want clean air and water. They fundamentally dont understand how the American government, economy and capitalism work. "

In a fundraising letter, he went on to compare soccer moms who attended the tea parties to "red-baiting McCarthyites...Know-Nothings and the KKK." Inexplicably, Tate's comment failed to appreciably raise the tone of the debate...as the mellow season turned into what promises to be a long and chilly winter.

Charles J. Sykes, the WI editor, is the author of six books and hosts a daily radio show on AM620 WTMJ in Milwaukee.

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