Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 9:33 am
With the state budget having worked its way through the legislative process like a rat working its way through a snake, things are much quieter on the media front.Â Over the summer and into the fall, the rhetoric was flying about who was to blame for the late budget.Â Now that the process is done and we’ve gotten a glimpse of what really happened, it’s instructive to exhume that issue and provide an autopsy of how it was covered at the time.
As everyone can recall, the Republican Assembly was pitted against the Democratic Senate and governor in negotiating a final budget.Â The budget as passed by the Senate was chock full of new taxes on hospitals, oil companies, and cigarettes, just to name a few.Â The Assembly sought to remove those tax increases, arguing that natural growth in state revenues were enough to cover the state’s spending obligations.Â Negotiations were at an impasse for some time, with both sides holding firm.
And how was this impasse portrayed to the state’s public?Â Naturally, it was just taken for granted that it was the fault of Assembly Republicans.Â In fact, some media outlets came out and said it directly.Â Take this editorial from Tom Giffey of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, entitled “Assembly Main Culprit in Budget Impasse.”
While the latter two parties still aren’t blameless, it has become clear the Assembly is the major roadblock to the budget’s completion. Last Monday, on a 44-53 vote, they rejected the latest version of the budget, which had been presented to the Legislature by a frustrated Doyle, who called a special session to spur lawmakers to finish their job.
And what about other taxpayers? Because of the budget delay, school districts will get nearly $80 million less in state aid than they expected, forcing them to make deep cuts or raise taxes; thousands of university students are without financial aid grants for the fall semester; and all university students face the prospect of a tuition surcharge in the spring.
None of which, incidentally, happened.
Readers of the Wisconsin State Journal were treated to this article on Sunday, October 7th:
Gop Accused Of Blocking Budget: Doyle’s Spokesman Says Republicans And Their Supporters Are Working Together To Delay Passage.
Republicans and their supporters are working together to delay passage of a new state budget, Gov. Jim Doyle’s spokesman said Friday.
“You have what appears to be a coordinated strategy to delay this budget,” said Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic governor.
The blame went on and on, with few articles recognizing that budget negotiations areÂ accomplished by two parties.Â Not surprisingly, now that the budget is complete, we’re getting an entirely different story.
In a press conference following passage of the budget, Doyle actually credited Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch with continuing to negotiate all along:
Doyle also tipped his hat to Huebsch, R-West Salem, for not letting budget negotiations wither.
â€œWhen the public rhetoric was flying around and everybody was calling everybody names, he was quietly and patiently continuing to talk,â€ Doyle said.
Incidentally, much of that “public rhetoric” and “name calling” was done by Doyle himself (see above).Â But Doyle knew full well media outlets would buy his version of events, which we now know to be untrue.
Shortly after passage of the budget, Senate Democrats removed their leader, Senator Judy Robson.Â New Majority Leader Russ Decker said his coup was due in large part by Robson’s refusal to hold out longer:
Decker also said that he would “hopefully” have gotten a better deal for Democrats had he been leader, as well, adding he would have held out longer for the hospital assessment, oil assessment and combined reporting.
In a blistering television interview given after her removal, Robson confirms that Decker was urging negotiations to drag on, in hopes of forcing a government shut down.Â Clearly, Decker knew that the longer the budget dragged on, the worse it looked for Republicans – in large part, because of the media rush to blame the GOP for the lack of movement.Â Decker knew that Democrats would never be on the hook for a late budget, and that any perceived damage to the state would be pinned on Republicans.Â Clearly, he was right.
In sum:Â Huebsch kept negotiating (see Doyle quote), Decker was elected because he wanted to hold out longer (see Decker quote), and the media targeted conservatives (Rep. Steve Nass, etc.) as the bad guys, despite the strident right making themselves completely irrelevant to the budget process before the budget even began.Â Republicans were consistently being portrayed as being pulled by the “extreme” wing of the party; yet, by signing a “no tax increase” pledge, those conservatives essentially excused themselves from budget participation before the process even started.Â But it’s a lot simpler and easier to villify the GOP as caving in to their extremists.
Yet nobody in the state would get that this is what was going on, as few questioned the template: Republicans are refusing to negotiate because they want to cut programs and force a government shutdown.Â Of course, the fact that Senate Democrats included an unprecedentedÂ $15.2 billion universal health care plan in their budget with one day’sÂ notice couldn’t possibly have held up negotiations, since it doesn’t fit the pre-existing blueprint forÂ how budget negotiations are covered.Â Â
Fortunately, now that the budget’s done, everyone can sit back and have a good laugh about how inaccurately the process was covered.Â As long as it makes the right side look bad, who cares, right?
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 10:16 pm
As of Monday afternoon, details of the Wisconsin budget compromise were still being made available.Â Yet legislators will be asked to vote up or down on the entire document on Tuesday.Â There’s a reason for that.
From Martin Luther to Thomas Jefferson, the great political minds recognized that governments derive their power from the consent of the governed.Â That, of course, assumes that peopleÂ know what they are consenting to.Â Sure, you’ll hear all the big numbers from the press – but let’s dig a little deeper to see the items to which you, as a taxpayer,Â have consented:
Yes, you read that correctly – cow dung is now tax-deductible.Â Just feed your cow a serving of “Moons Over My Hammy” from Denny’s, lay back, and prepare to cash your checks.Â There’s an ATM where you least expect it.
This oneÂ is for those people who just don’t think they get enough junk mail.Â Â I am desperately in need ofÂ more opportunities to buy J. Crew turtlenecks, and am thankful state government is there to make that happen.
According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau Summary, this new class “would introduce Chinese political, business, and academic leaders and practitioners to the Wisconsin Idea, especially as it relates to China’s environmental issues.”Â In a show of support, the University of Beijing will be offering a class on the “Chinese Idea” – namely, crushing America with its bare hands.Â Vegas has the Chinese military favored over the Badgers by 7.5 points.
Actually, I’d rather the money be spent on helping Yi Jianlian develop a spin move.
Authors of this tax credit believe throwing a few bucks at film crews is going to make Wisconsin the Hollywood of the upper Midwest.Â If it gets Natalie Portman to a barbeque at my house, I may just pay the whole thing myself.
From the summary: “Create a buy local grant program whereby DATCP would award grants to individuals and organizations to fund projects designed to increase the local sales of agricultural products grown within the state. Grants under the program would be permitted for the creation, promotion and support of regional food and cultural tourism trails, and for promoting the development of regional food systems.”
For some reason, Senate Democrats inserted an extremely complicated change to the state’s liquor distribution system.Â The summary is 10 pages long, and it has nothing to do with actual state finances.Â I challenge any Senator to begin to explain what it does.
Apparently, small brewpubs are getting a little too successful at brewing and selling delicious beer in one location.Â Thus, they must be stopped from doing so through state regulation.Â This new license would impose new rules on brew pubs, thereby creating a barrier to entry for new businesses.Â This provision came out of thin air in conference committee – it wasn’t a part of either house’s initial budget plan.
From the summary: “Provide $400,000 SEG annually from the agrichemical management (ACM) fund for a grant to the Wisconsin Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (WGLCI) for technical education and research.”
“Education?” How much does it cost to teachÂ livestock to eat the green stuff growing out of the ground?
Again, another licensure requirement that has nothing to do with the budget.Â This is typical “fence me in” legislation, whereby an organization will push the Legislature to create a new permit with requirements only they meet.Â Thus, their competition either can’t meet the requirements or has to spend a great deal of money to do so.
Those lazy butterflies have been mooching off the taxpayers long enough.Â Maybe we can get them jobs with the painter’s union.
These, of course, are merely the tip of the iceberg.Â There are dozens of local pork projects packed in, costing millions.Â It should also be noted that the projects above are bipartisan – manyÂ were inserted by the Republican-controlled Assembly, and more wereÂ proposed by the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The thing they all have in common is that none of them will be mentioned in any way either in the debate or news coverage of the budget.Â (That’s not to fault the media – they obviously need to hit the big themes in the one day before the budget goes to the floor.)Yet this is theÂ budget processÂ to which we provide our consent.Â
The downturn in the housing market and the credit crunch instigated by poor lending practices have warned of a recession for months now. Some market analysts are now predicting a decrease in real incomes including UW-Madison’s very own Dr. Don Nichols. Recession means that people’s incomes and national production decrease after taking inflation into account. Government budgets are meant to act as natural economic stimuli in times of recession. Unemployment insurance and welfare payments generally increase during recessions while government tax revenues generally decrease across the board. Basically, we see budget deficits in time of recession so that the economy doesn’t stumble too much.
The fact that Wisconsin doesn’t have a budget as of yet could place the state in even more of a fiscal crunch if a recession does occur and the legislature rushes to pass a budget that is fiscally irresponsible. By not passing a budget, the state continues to spend as usual, but does not take into account higher price levels than years past. This prevents Wisconsin from growing. For example, the UW System will not be able to expand and develop their programs since their budgets remain the same even as costs increase. However, this scenario is probably better than a larger budget that requires higher taxes at a time when tax revenues and consumer incomes could possibly fall. What ensues is a large budget deficit, something most Wisconsinites don’t want to see.
So it is my contention that, in the face of possible recession, it is time for Wisconsin to be especially careful with the passing of a fiscally sound budget. If all this extra time results in a more responsible budget, then so be it.
Rep. Nelson: Begins sit-in to protest budget impasse 10/18/2007
Contact: Rep. Nelson
Democratic Assemblyman to remain in Assembly chambers, ready to work, 24 hours a day 7 days a week until budget passes
MADISON â€“ Rep. Tom Nelson (D-Kaukauna) will begin a sit-in today at 9 a.m. in the Wisconsin State Assembly chambers.
Nelson will remain at his desk, ready to work, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until a budget proposal is brought to the Assembly and passes both the Assembly and Senate.
The budget is 109 days past due and Wisconsin remains the only state to not have passed a budget.
And this is supposed to speed up the budget?Â Who wouldn’t want to see this train wreck evolve for the next month?Â I demand full-time coverage on WisconsinEye.Â After three weeks, he’ll look like Ron Burgundy after his crash (complete with “milk was a bad choice” moment.)
Next time the Assembly is on the floor, look for introduction of a joint resolution memorializing Tom Nelson to put his shoes back on.Â “Mr. Speaker, unanimous consent to have Representative Nelson remove his Doritos from my desk.”
Incidentally, while NelsonÂ plays out this malodorous charadeÂ at hisÂ desk, he will continue to receive his state paycheck.Â Why, you may ask?Â Well, because state government is still spending the same amount of money it spent last year.
So, in a show of solidarity, I vow to ridicule Tom Nelson for 24 hours a day until the budget is passed.
Ever since the digital revolution started more than a decade ago, Milwaukee has not grown nearly as fast as other cities in the country. Some people thought it was a problem with Wisconsin. However, Madison and other cities like Eau Claire have grown substantially faster than Milwaukee. Specifically, Madison’s biotechnology industry has fueled its expansion in recent years while Milwaukee’s once powerful manufacturing industry dwindled and became a liability. Although Milwaukee is slowly making a comeback, Madison is still chugging along at growth rates that are, at times, three times the size of Milwaukee’s. So is it safe to say that Madison’s economy, now grown to 40% the size of Milwaukee’s, could be the economic leader of Wisconsin in the future?
Madison does have the tools in place to be a contender, primarily a great educational infrastructure. Milwaukee is only now realizing the importance of education in maintaining economic clout and is now starting to push support behind its universities. However its public school system, MPS, does not provide Milwaukee’s universities with an abundance of good students which limits the synergies and benefits that would arise from a private sector / university partnership. Madison has this partnership and is a big reason for its relatively huge success in recent years.
So is Milwaukee finished as Wisconsin’s powerhouse? Should we start looking to Madison for guidance and hope? Not quite yet. But if Milwaukee’s schools don’t shape up, Madison may be the front-runner sooner than we expect.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 3:08 pm
As the state budget drags along over 100 days past due, you’ll hear all kinds of rhetoric about how much damage the late budget is doing to the state.Â In fact, the most damagingÂ consequence the late budget has wrought upon our state is terrible political commentary.
Take this editorial by Neil Heinen of Madison’s Channel 3.Â In bemoaning the late budget, Heinen says:
The Wisconsin State Legislature has become dysfunctional, ineffectual, and counter-productive. It is an embarrassment and it is harming the state’s reputation and image. And the few good public servants in its ranks can do nothing. It is time for fundamental change.
The most important change will only come with reform of the redistricting process and the way campaigns are financed. Currently, government is pretty much run by rabidly partisan legislative staff members whose jobs are basically to cater to special interest money and keep it flowing. There is no longer even a faÃ§ade of caring for the interests of the citizens of this state or responsible public policy. Cash and reelection are all that matter.
However, those changes are a ways off yet. In the meantime, there must be limits placed on the ineptitude we allow during the biennial budget process. The system has to change. The best idea we’ve heard is from University of Wisconsin professor John Sharpless who suggests giving the Legislature 90 days to pass a budget. If it fails, dissolve the Legislature and hold new elections. Would that we could to that today.
So he hits all the usual lefty talking points – the budget is being held up because of fundraising, legislators are too partisan, and on and on.Â (I attempted to debunk the whole “fundraising is holding up the budget” talking point here.)Â It’s funny that he says legislators have given up on caring for the people – I would think that Assembly Republicans believe strongly that dodging $1 billion in new taxes helps regular people quite a bit.Â Conversely, Democrats likely thought their universal health care plan (which held the budget up for months) helps people with no health insurance a great deal.
The real kicker here is his solution to the whole budget impasse.Â Sure, let’s just throw the Legislature out 90 days after a budget is due.Â You don’t think Judy Robson (the Senate Democratic Majority Leader) wouldn’t want a new election right now?Â Â The Assembly is barely in Republican control, and would likely flip to the Democrats.Â So if one party were in control of one house and wanted to take a shot at gaining a majority in the other house, delaying a budget would be the most sensible thing to do.
Furthermore, he actually thinks holding an election during a budget is going to lessen the influence of money on the political process?Â If anything, fundraising influence would explode during a mid-budget election.Â So let’s recap – campaigns are bad, so in order to clean up the budget process, we need to have more of them.Â Maybe in order to stop sex predators, we should just let them babysit more often.
I realize giving this half-baked plan even a minute’s worth of thought is a waste of time.Â But asking our media to think through what they say shouldn’t really be too much to ask.Â Instead, we getÂ obnoxious coverage by people incapable ofÂ stringing together a coherent point.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 12:11 pm
According to this New York Times article, African-American women are having trouble deciding which meaningless characteristic means more to them in a presidential candidate: race or sex.
When reading the article, one expects interviews with black women who can’t decide whether Barack Obama’s race or Hillary Clinton’s sex makes more ofÂ a difference when deciding which candidate to support.Â In fact, hairdresser Clara Vereen, the star of the article, actually gives reasons why not to support each:
Part of being real, said Ms. Vereen, whom everyone calls Miss Clara, is worrying that a black president would not be safe.
â€œI fear that they just would kill him, that he wouldnâ€™t even have a chance,â€ she said as she styled a customerâ€™s hair with a curling iron. One way to protect him, she suggested, would be not to vote for him.
I wouldn’t even begin to try to explain the African-American community’sÂ feelings toward Obama – but this seems bizarre.Â The best way to protect his life would be to refuse to vote for him?Â Â In aÂ way, this is ridiculous – but on the other hand, it unmasks the deep distrust of whites that still boils below the surface in the South.Â How is Obama supposed to pick up traction if blacksÂ either don’t believe white Americans will vote for an African-American, or that they will kill him if he’s elected?Â
Clara says about Hillary Clinton:
â€œWe always love Hillary because we love her husband,â€ Ms. Vereen said. Then she paused. Much of the chitchat in her shop is about whether a woman could or should be president.
â€œA man is supposed to be the head,â€ she said. â€œI feel like the Lord has put man first, and I believe in the Bible.â€
So rather than being an article about how the positive aspects of sex and race might pull black female voters in certain directions, it actually exposes the fact that gender and color might actually work against both candidates in some aspects.Â It was probably a surprise to the New York Times that many of the women to whom they spoke didn’t fall into a neat category, as the headline suggested.
The underlying theme of the article, I think, is the unexpected complexity voters have in their attitudes towards candidates.Â It’s not a case of “I’m voting for Obama because he’s black” or “I’m voting for Hillary because she’s a woman.”Â There are reasons – no matter how unrealistic – that people support candidates, and they don’t necessarily conform to traditional views of identity politics.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 3:18 pm
Last week, the Wisconsin Hospital Association dropped their opposition to a tax on hospitals originally proposed by Governor Jim Doyle.Â The WHA had initially opposed the tax, and legislative leaders in both the Senate and Assembly had agreed to take it off the negotiating table.Â Supporters of the tax believe it will allow the state to draw down federal matching funds, while opponents note that the tax will merely be passed on to hospital consumers (commonly known as “sick people.”)
With the WHA dropping their opposition to the tax (knowing that in the end they won’t be the ones paying it), Senate Democrats have now reneged on their initial agreement to remove the tax.Â According to Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson, the budget could be done quickly if Republicans accept the tax increase – that she previously had agreed to scuttle.
Owen Robinson has done an excellent job of explaining how the WHA’s switch in position shouldn’t effect budget negotiations.Â For one, we elect legislators – not special interest groups.Â For Assembly Republicans, it hasn’t altered their positionÂ - they were opposed to it before, and remain in opposition regardless of the position of an interested organization.
There is, however, a second step to this equation.Â Where is the discussion of Senate Democrats who have now flip-flopped their position at the behest of the Hospital Association?Â Since when have we looked kindly at legislators who are so clearly led around by the noseÂ by a special interest group?
The answer here is simple – since, in this case, the interest group is advocating for higher taxes, they cease to be a “special interest” in the eyes of the media and good government groups.Â They are merely pushing for better health care, right?
Imagine if the opposite scenario had developed.Â Â Suppose the original budget had a tax break for fatcat businesses, which the Assembly Republicans agreed, with the blessing of the business community, to take out.Â Then, at the last minute in budget negotiations, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce came in and demanded it be re-installed, leaving Assembly Republicans scrambling to re-insert it as a budget bottom-line.Â We’d hear howls of undue special interest influence, charges of buying legislators, and the like.Â We’d get the predictable round of editorials pushing campaign finance reform and charges of negotiating in bad faith.
On the hospital tax issue, there has been one consistent voice -Â from the side opposed toÂ it.Â Those looking for the effects of special interest influence need to look no further than the Senate Democrats, who have handed their decision-making process to the WHA board.Â Good government, indeed.
The story behind Wisconsin’s first black legislator is interesting, since it seems like such a fluke. Lucien Palmer, a resort manager and hotel steward from Milwaukee, was elected in 1906 to the State Assembly. It is believed by some that Palmer earned his election because voters confused him with another Palmer who was white. This is supported by the fact that Lucien Palmer only lasted one session – it is possible that voters figured out who he was.
It wasn’t until 1944 that another African-American, Le Roy J. Simmons of Milwaukee, was elected to the Assembly. There has been black representation in the Legislature ever since. This fact really makes Lucien Palmer an outlier, and the circumstances of his election are probably a very interesting story.
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 2:39 pm
September of 1998 saw a U.S. presidency in crisis.Â Two vans, one white and one blue, had just backed up to the U.S. Capitol and unleashedÂ eighteen boxes ofÂ evidence in support of the Starr Report, which accused President Clinton of lying under oath to federal law enforcement officials.Â The Starr Report was riddled with lurid details about the president’s sexual escapades, which were meant to prove that Clinton had perjured himself in previous grand jury testimony.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike were aghast at the president’s behavior, and set about negotiating which details of the Starr evidence to make available to the public.Â Under a previous agreement, the entire body of evidence would be made public unless redacted by a congressional committee.Â So attorneys for both sides sifted through the boxes to cross out social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, and even details about Monica Lewinsky’s weight problems.
There was, however, a problem.Â Democrats and Republicans were agreeing on everything.Â At this point, President Clinton was left with one remaining defense – that the whole Starr Report episode was a partisan witch hunt against him.Â Thus, bipartisanship was not in his best interest.
Julian Epstien, the Democratic chief counsel, recognized that the sides were getting along too well.Â He needed split votes to take to the public.Â So he set a trap for the Republicans – he would have his side make motion after motion to redact some of the lurid sexual testimony, knowing full well that the GOP representatives would resist.Â The case, after all, rested on whether Clinton had a “sexual relationship” with Lewinsky.
When voting began, the Democrats followed the plan.Â Motion after motion was made by Democrats to strike sexual details, only to have Republicans vote those motions down.Â It made Republicans look like they were on a sex-crazed witch hunt.Â In essence, the Democrats won by losing.Â
This is a lesson that can be learned by Assembly Republicans in negotiating the Wisconsin state budget.Â According to reports, 25 Assembly Republicans have signed some form of a no-tax increase pledge.Â There is little doubt that when a final budget emerges, it will have some tax increases – whether they be a cigarette tax increase, a hospital tax increase, or an oil company tax increase.Â In each case, the burden of these taxes will be borne by consumers.
Consequently, Assembly Republicans are going to need to pull some Assembly Democrat votes along for the ride to pass a final budget.Â They shouldn’t make the effort.Â Instead, they should allow the Democrats to pass a bill and hang themselves in the process.
Politically, passing an Assembly budget with, say, 25 Republican and 25 Democrat votes doesn’t do Republicans any good.Â It makes the partly look flaccid and toothless.Â Â The GOPÂ should stand, to the fullest extent possible, against any budget that raises taxes as much as this budget likely will.Â There will be a couple of Republicans that will jump ship and vote for the budget (line one is for you, Terry Musser), whichÂ shouldÂ give the 47Â Democrats the votes they need to pass the budget.Â
Some Republicans could argue with the wisdom of essentially handing the budget over to the Democrats.Â Yet with so many GOP members committed to a “no” vote, it is clear that the Dems are already writing this budget.Â What leverage does Mike Huebsch currently have, other than the ability to block scheduling of the bill?Â The most important votes in the Assembly now belong to Democrats likely to vote for the same budget their Senate cohorts will pass.Â Republicans shouldn’t be complicit in this dog-and-pony show.
Instead, Republicans should resist this budget and begin the process of pointing out all the tax increasesÂ created and passedÂ by Democrats.Â They should be relentless in illustrating the extent to which Democrats want to drain the wallets of people who buy gas, go to the hospital, and buy homes.Â Then, the voters will make up their minds in 2008 whether that is something they want to be a part of.
Admittedly, it would be odd for a Republican Speaker to schedule a bill for floor action that few members of his party intend to vote for.Â And the Democratic Minority Leader may not be in a hurry to help bail Republicans out of the budget mess.Â The current delay likely works to his caucus’ favor.
This budget is going to have tax increases.Â Politically, if possible, it is best to place the blame for them squarely where it belongs – on the Democrats.Â There should be no consideration given to making this a bipartisan disaster.