Most large special interest groups have their “Capitol days,” in which they bus their members to Madison, arm them with printed talking points, flood legislative offices, and attempt to get their legislator to support their cause. (Or as the Democratic Party of Wisconsin calls it, engage in “grassroots activism.”)
Today was AFL-CIO day at the Wisconsin Capitol, as evidenced by the hundreds of union members milling about the statehouse and the legislative press releases sucking up to those union members.
In fairness to the union members, most of them are good, hard-working people that think they’re bettering their situation by allowing themselves to be herded down to Madison. Most aren’t particularly well versed in the issues floating around the Capitol these days, but they recognize that showing up in large numbers lends their cause credibility.
On the other hand, there are the union leaders who speak out openly without knowing what they’re talking about. And after some of the meetings today, I heard from several staffers that wanted to pass on some of the discussions they had with their AFL-CIO members.
Take this one:
Me: We’re against tax increases. We should just spend less. This budget has $5 billion in new spending.
AFL-CIO representative: Well there is a deficit, so obviously there is obviously a need for the extra spending.
Or this one:
A GUY WHO REPRESENTS HARLEY WORKERS was talking about how “bad actor” corporations (WalMart, et al) dodge taxes with the “Las Vegas loophole.” I didn’t want to extend the meeting by asking if Harley was a bad actor. But I would’ve asked if he was talking about the same Harley Davidson that is losing profit and laying off workers BECAUSE OF THE @#%ING “TAX LOOPHOLE CLOSURE” HE IS SUPPORTING!”
(Quoting a news article detailing the Harley layoffs)
“Thursday’s announcement came after Harley reported a 37% drop in first-quarter profit because of a sluggish motorcycle market, restructuring costs and a change in Wisconsin tax laws.“
Then there’s this one:
The union leaders were complaining about “undermarket wages” and the need for prevailing wage to be on any local project. I chose not to suggest that (probably non-union) Employee X willing to work for Wage Y from Employer Z was precisely a market wage because that’s exactly how the market works. Employee X may want more money (who doesn’t?), but if he accepts an offered wage, guess what – that’s the market wage.
Not to mention the fact that requiring higher wages on building projects may simply deter builders from taking on projects. So jobs that may have been created to build a new condo won’t exist, and unemployment will remain high. Vacant lots will remain vacant, but union members won’t blame their own actions for their lack of jobs.
Also on the talking points was the “American Jobs Act,” which would prevent the State of Wisconsin from contracting with any business that contracts with overseas businesses. This, of course, could vastly increase the cost of government, and force higher taxes to pay for these services. Taking more taxes from businesses (via things like combined reporting) actually cost us jobs, as businesses have to cut costs. (I have argued that given the state’s dire economic situation, we should be looking for even more ways to cut costs, including expanding outsourcing.) As one staffer told me, the response to his skepticism over the American Jobs Act was simply “HOW COULD ANYONE OPPOSE AMERICAN JOBS FOR AMERICANS?”
In normal years, these groups come and go without leaving much of a dent. But now, their favored politicians run every aspect of state government – and with an equal level of sophistication and economic wherewithal. If all of the tax changes they’re pushing actually pass, you can bet their entourage for Capitol Day 2010 will be a lot smaller – since a lot more of them will be out of work. They should be a little more careful what they ask for.
Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.
I guess that settles it. Now the researchers of America can get around to curing the swine flu.
Filed under: Health Care — Christian Schneider @ 10:55 am
Lost in all the hullaballoo about Miss California’s support of “opposite marriage” during the Miss USA pageant last week was this unbelievable answer from Miss Arizona, when asked if she supports universal health care:
That made more sense than anything the Wisconsin Democrats supporting “Healthy Wisconsin” have said to this point.
Just like damp, warm areas in your house are conducive to breeding cockroaches, more invasive government intervention creates a welcome environment for corruption and sleaze. So says Daniel J. Mitchell from the Cato Institute in this instructive video:
As Mitchell points out, with every ethics scandal we have, we simply pass more and more laws to serve as a band-aid to cover the problem – when in fact, it’s government intervention itself that is causing the damage. The only way to scale back pay-for-play and behind the scenes dealmaking is to limit the areas that government (and therefore the lobbying community) actually controls.
Filed under: Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 1:07 pm
The Cato Institute has issued a study showing that the number of federal subsidy programs has exploded to over 1,800 in the last decade:
By 1970, there were 1,019 federal subsidy programs, as shown in Figure 1.2 The number of programs grew in the late-1970s, but was cut back in the early 1980s under President Ronald Reagan.
The number of subsidies started expanding again in the late-1980s, but leveled out in the late-1990s as Congress and President Bill Clinton briefly restrained the budget. Alas, all restraint vanished this decade, and the number of subsidy programs has exploded 27 percent with the passing of expansionary laws in agriculture, homeland security, transportation, and other areas.
There has been a large increase in the number of agriculture programs due to bloated farm bills passed in 2002 and 2008. There have also been large increases in the number of homeland security and justice programs, which subsidize local activities such as firefighting and policing.3 While those are important activities, it would be more efficient if they were funded locally because Congress often steers such funds to projects of dubious quality and little national security relevance.
The feds actually put out a handy guide listing all the federal subsidy plans, called the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. It’s a 2,205 page document that lists everything from the Wildlife Without Borders – Africa Program to the Peanut Quota Buyout Program. It’s worth a look to see the sheer magnitude of existing subsidy programs.
Filed under: Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 7:17 pm
In the wake of last week’s tax protests, the last person you’d expect to be pushing for smaller government would be Tom Brokaw. But here he is today, writing in the New York Times:
In my native Great Plains, North and South Dakota have a combined population of just under 1.5 million people, and in each state the rural areas are being depopulated at a rapid rate. Yet between them the two Dakotas support 17 colleges and universities. They are a carry-over from the early 20th century when travel was more difficult and farm families wanted their children close by during harvest season.
I know this is heresy, but couldn’t the two states get a bigger bang for their higher education buck if they consolidated their smaller institutions into, say, the Dakota Territory College System, with satellite campuses but a common administration and shared standards?
Iowa, next door, is having its own struggles with maintaining population, especially among the young. As the Hawkeye State’s taxpayers grow older and less financially productive, the cost of government services becomes more expensive.
Yet Iowa proudly maintains its grid of 99 counties, each with its own distinctive courthouse, many on the National Register of Historic Places – and some as little as 40 miles away from one another. Each one houses a full complement of clerks, auditors, sheriff’s deputies, jailers and commissioners. Is there any reason beyond local pride to maintain such duplication given the economic and population pressures of our time?
This is not a problem unique to the states I have cited. Every state and every region in the country is stuck with some form of anachronistic and expensive local government structure that dates to horse-drawn wagons, family farms and small-town convenience.
Of course, on Brokaw’s own television network – the one he spent decades building into a reputable news organization – he would be labeled a “teabagging racist redneck” for espousing this preference for smaller government. Who knew Tom Brokaw’s brain was so underdeveloped? Who could have imagined he took all his marching orders from Fox News?
Filed under: Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 10:48 am
The Packers’ crappy season last year can be attributable to a number of factors – poor tackling, slow linebackers, bad blocking, etc. But do taxes play a role in keeping good talent away from Wisconsin?
The states without income tax, I felt, always had an advantage in recruiting free agent players. Teams in Florida, Tennessee and Texas used the fact that their states had no income tax to show players how much more they would take home than teams in high income tax states (like Wisconsin). In some cases, agents actually showed me data from other teams showing how much more the player would make over the life of the same contract in one of those states. In recruiting players for Green Bay, I would always hear from agents how much more a player would make from, say, the Buccaneers or Texans compared to the 6.6-percent state income tax that Wisconsin would take from Packer players. That and, of course, the weather.
From what I remember, in their early days, both the NBA’s Vancouver Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors had a difficult time attracting free agent talent due to the burdensome Canadian tax load. (And the fact that a player could die waiting in the emergency room to get a sprained ankle looked at.) It makes sense that agents have gotten so sophisticated that they can now dice the numbers up on a state-by-state basis.
So even if you’re not tuned in politically, oppose Jim Doyle’s tax increases to save the Packers.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 4:51 pm
Today was tax day – the day everyone rushes to the post office to file their returns. That is, unless they work for the Obama administration and are in charge of actually spending that money. They can get to it whenever they feel like it.
The Lord smiled on the Tea Party held in Madison today, as thousands of people showed up from all over the state to fight higher taxes. (The Lord hasn’t specifically expressed a preference for lower taxes, although he was irked that one time Jesus got a ticket from the DNR for turning bread into fish.) Warmth greeted 4,000 people who flooded the Capitol’s East Wing sidewalk to demonstrate against taxes, spending, and pretty much any gripe they have with any aspect of the current government. Today was the day of airing grievances publicly – if you don’t like taxes, you were there with signs. If you don’t like gun control, you were there with signs. If you think the voting process on American Idol is rigged, you were there with signs.
Before the event even began, liberal groups were trying to cut the protest off at the knees. Wisconsin Democratic Chairman Joe Wineke issued a statement deriding the “tea bag party” as an organized effort bankrolled by conservative interest groups. As if union protests are completely organic events – like, some union guy shows up on a picket line completely unaware that other people are going to be there. “Oh, you guys are protesting today? Me too!”
I got there about an hour and a half before the festivities began. Capitol police lined the outer rings of the Capitol, just in case they needed to jump in and beat down someone who might be throwing peanuts on the ground. People with anti-tax signs were already filling up the sidewalk leading up to the doors of the Capitol. The stage was set up right in front of the doors, with a large video screen on the left side of the stage. The right sidewalk was flanked by a humongous 8 foot tall sign with orange letters that said NO NEW TAXES, brought here by Citizens for Responsible Government. Naturally, their volunteers were handing out pamphlets pushing for Governor Jim Doyle’s recall.
At a quarter to 11:00, the thousand or so people who had already gathered began an impromptu rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Apparently not knowing what their next move was, they began singing “God Bless America,” although clearly fewer people knew the words. They then, for some reason, followed that up with “Amazing Grace,” and even fewer people knew the words to that song. I figured that if it kept up at that pace, in about six songs, it would just be one guy singing the theme song to “Titanic” really loudly by himself.
The signs were all fairly standard anti-tax and spend sayings. They ranged from the poetic (“Doyle is a Boil on the Taxpayers’ Ass”) to the scatological (“Flush the Doylet”), to the confusing-but-true-if-taken-literally (“Washington is on Crack”. Marion Barry is protesting alone in D.C. with a sign that says “you have a point this time.”) I was talking with a friend, and saw an execrable sign (“Obama Wants White Slavery”), then turned to my friend and said “I guarantee that sign gets mentioned in the press.” It took almost a full hour before Wispolitics.com made good on my guarantee. Wasn’t really a tough prediction – of the probably 500 signs there, that was clearly the one that was going to make the news.
(There was one sign that said “Yes, We Are a Christian Nation,” and I thanked them for holding me in such high regard.)
Speaking of signs and the media, our friends from One Wisconsin Now (an outfit funded almost entirely by union money) were there staging their own protest. Their executive director Scot Ross was there, along with some of his buddies who were dressed as bankers, complete with top hats and awesome curly mustaches. They were holding signs that said things like “Don’t Tax My Yacht” and, perhaps most ironically, “Get Back to Work.” (You may recall the last taxpayer rally at the Capitol, which drew hundreds of government workers there to heckle the anti-tax folks on the taxpayers’ dime.)
Before things got underway, I sat for a while and watched one guy that had an awesome contraption – it was essentially like a bicycle seat attached to this long pole. So anytime, anywhere you felt like it, you could whip this thing out and sit down on it. As someone who specializes in laziness, this thing could be revolutionary. See for yourself:
As I gazed at this technological marvel, the loudspeakers began playing Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” while the giant video screen flashed the words. When this song came out in 1985, I’m guessing Twisted Sister hadn’t really envisioned it as a rallying cry for conservatives to urge lower taxes. I’m thinking they were probably championing the cause of more irresponsible sex and heavier drug use. (Finally, someone speaks on behalf of the drugs.) Just in case the crowd missed the point of the song, they played it a second time, right after the first.
Twisted Sister was followed up by a an audio montage of Jim Doyle’s greatest hits – all of his past quotes about how “we can not, and I will not raise taxes,” and that “Wisconsin’s government problem isn’t that it taxes too little, it’s that it spends too much.” By this time, the crowd was really getting big, and the boos washed over the people crammed in near the stage.
Then, the Conservative Bat Signal came. It is the inviolable rule of conservative events – nothing really happens until Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” plays. Once the final “God Bless the USA” plays, it’s go time. Only this time, there was a lag between the song and the speeches. The stage was still empty, although the sound checks had all been completed. It took every ounce of self control for me to not run up to the microphone and start yelling “don’t take the brown acid, man!” Sadly, I think few attendees would have gotten the joke. Or they would have been stabbed by the Hell’s Angels, who were providing security for the day.
Finally, a crowd gathered on the podium, and Americans For Prosperity director Mark Block introduced the day’s first speaker, fiscal dreamboat Paul Ryan. As Ryan walked out of the Capitol an on to the stage, the One Wisconsin Now guys berated him via bullhorn, blaming him for high unemployment in his district. Ryan strode up to the podium, and immediately announced that “everyone is giving me teabags.” This elicited only a fraction of the muffled laughter I expected, although it may have earned him an entirely new constituency that he has heretofore never courted.
Ryan gave an impassioned speech not unlike many of the speeches he’s given on the floor of the House. It could have only been a couple minutes, then he was gone. Following Ryan were a host of speakers, including Wisconsin GOP Chair Reince Priebus. Priebus had a tough task ahead of him – a good number of the attendees in the crowd equally blame Republicans for the shoddy state of government finances, and he received a couple cat calls to that effect. But he did a really good job of throwing out the red meat, and by the end of his speech, seems to have more than won the crowd over.
After Priebus spoke, I began winding my way through the crowd to try to observe some of the sights. The faux-bankers at One Wisconsin Now were giving media interviews, accusing everyone at the rally of being the wealthiest 1% of wage earners. (Apparently, the liberal groups are unaware that they RUN THE ENTIRE GOVERNMENT now.)
Just by scanning the crowd, you could see that, if anything, these people were the exact opposite. They are just regular people afraid of losing their jobs – something government employees rarely have to fear – and hacked off at having to pay more of their money to a government that is using it to drive the state’s finances into a ditch. Aesthetically, they had the look of 4,000 regular, main-street folks – for the cost of Governor Doyle’s trip to the Masters golf tournament, you probably could have bought them all haircuts.
As radio talk show host Vicki McKenna took the stage to wrap things up, the crowd was clearly tired and angry. The sun had been beating down on them for hours as they listened to speech after speech of depressing (and accurate) descriptions of our government gone bad. McKenna’s speech hit all the right notes – pointing out all the hidden policy in the budget, urging people to take action, and ordering them to go in and talk to their legislators. She got a big ovation, then rally attendees broke up and started going their separate ways.
Will it make any difference in the budget? Not likely. All of the legislators sympathetic to the protestors’ causes were in attendance – but none of them actually run anything anymore. Around late July this year, the budget is going to pass in something close to its current form. As a result, all these people will be back – probably with a few thousand more of their friends.
Filed under: Politics — Christian Schneider @ 8:33 am
While you were at home on your couch watching the Masters golf tournament on television between naps, your Governor was actually there watching it first-hand. Apparently, Doyle was looking for the answer to Wisconsin’s skyrocketing unemployment rate somewhere off the fairway on the 13th. (He swears it went just left of that pine tree, but can’t seem to find it.)
Steve Walters at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had the nerve to ask the Governor how he paid to get down to Augusta for the event. Doyle’s press secretary steadfastly insisted that no taxpayer money was used to get the governor to Georgia – only campaign funds had been used.
Which would be fine, if state law considered flying to the Masters golf tournament an acceptable disbursement of campaign funds. In fact, it does not.
Wisconsin law restricts the use of campaign funds. Money in a candidate’s campaign account may be spent for political purposes only. The State Elections Board has not expanded on the definition of political purpose with specific examples in the form of an administrative rule. The candidate is responsible for ensuring that campaign finances are spent for political purposes and not for personal or governmental purposes.
Without this restriction, campaign funds could just be used for whatever current or ex-candidates wanted to – like buying big screen televisions, cars, or trips to see the Masters. Of course, Doyle has said that his trip down to Augusta was for a phony concurrent Democratic Governors Association meeting, which would make it for a “political purpose.”
I’d LOVE to see all the official “political” business they took care of while drinking beers and watching the golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club. In fact, through multiple secret sources, I was actually able to secure a copy of the minutes of the Democratic Governors Association meeting from Augusta last week:
THE DEMOCRATIC GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION MEETING OF THURSDAY, APRIL 9, 2009
11:08 AM – KANSAS GOVERNOR KATHLEEN SEBELIUS calls the meeting to order and takes roll.
11:10 – PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR ED RENDELL makes a motion to “hurry this sh** up.” Motion passes.
11:11 – OHIO GOVERNOR TED STRICKLAND made a motion declaring “Monsters Versus Aliens” in 3-D the “awesomest thrill ride” of the summer. Motion passed.
11:13 – NEW YORK GOVERNOR DAVID PATERSON showed up late, complaining that the guards at the front gate wouldn’t let him in. Awkward silence ensues, as governors realize Paterson doesn’t know that he’s black.
11:14 – WISCONSIN GOVERNOR JIM DOYLE thinks they should take moment to recognize the tough economy and all the sacrifices working families are having to make while unemployment skyrockets. He then screams “there’s too much orange juice in this mimosa!” and slams his glass on a country club servant boy’s head.
11:15 – VIRGINIA GOVERNOR TIM KAINE notices that the bowl of peanuts is getting low; immediately calls the White House, asking for more stimulus funds to get some more damn peanuts.
11:16 – NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR JON CORZINE announces he can’t wait for Rod Stewart Week this year on American Idol. Motion passes, although strangely, no motion was made.
11:17 – MARYLAND GOVERNOR MARTIN O’MALLEY, fresh off his third keg stand, declares to MICHIGAN GOVERNOR JENNIFER GRANHOLM that the alphabet would be “a lot hotter if they put ‘U’ and ‘I’ together.”
11:18 - MEETING ADJOURNED.
11:19 – Wisconsin loses 300 jobs to a state that’s 70% underwater while its Democratic governor enjoys the Masters’ Tournament with legally questionable campaign funds.
Fortunately for Doyle, it was this meeting that made it okay for him to use his campaign funds for a personal purpose. Unfortunately, the working people of Wisconsin don’t have campaign funds that allow them to fly away to phony conferences for the week.
Imagine my wife’s surprise when I tell her that the next meeting of the “Wisconsin Think Tank Blogger’s Association” will be held at the Miss Hawaiian Tropic Pageant in Daytona Beach. There, I can raise a styrofoam cup of beer to the poor people left jobless by the recession.