The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee announced just minutes ago that they would be meeting on Friday and Saturday this weekend to pass a bill closing the state’s $6.6 billion deficit. Ashamed of what they will be passing out of committee and determined to have as little scrutiny of the package as possible, the committee has decided to meet on Memorial Day weekend to sneak through their as-yet unannounced budget plan.
Of course, the committee – headed by Democratic Assemblyman Mark Pocan and Democratic Senator Mark Miller – thinks people will taking advantage of the long weekend by camping, grilling weiners, and playing volleyball. So while getting legislators to come to work on a weekend is normally about as easy as getting a cat into a bathtub, they are all willing to show up for this disgraceful charade to make sure the public has as little information about their budget deal as possible.
Let’s quickly review the actions of this Joint Finance Committee:
- In the past, the committee traditionally removed all of the non-fiscal budget policy items identified by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. This time, the co-chairs left in over 40 items that have nothing to do with state finance, but would increase, for instance, insurance premiums for drivers that have car insurance. In leaving these policy items in the budget, the committee members ensured there would be no public debate on their merits, as many of them may not be able to pass as separate legislation.
- In early May, several committee members locked themselves into a room for 12 hours while they pieced together a secret Regional Transportation Authority package – one that created new taxing authorities with the ability to raise the sales tax by double what Doyle had proposed, and that cut elected Republican elected officials out of the taxing boards, while allowing Democrats appointing authority. The committee members emerged at 2:00 in the morning and passed the package on a Friday morning, thereby avoiding news coverage of the secret deal.
- The forthcoming “Memorial Day Massacre.”
Of course, the public currently has no idea what’s in the package they’re going to pass on Saturday, and many of them won’t be paying very much attention. In essence, the committee is using a weekend honoring dead veterans as a shield to avoid scrutiny of their plan.
Just this week, we got a couple small peeks of what might be in the package – Wispolitics reported reduced aid to local governments, with property tax caps might be in the mix. Jason Stein at the Wisconsin State Journal uncovered a plan to issue federally subsidized bonds to plug the budget gap. But nobody will know what’s in the final budget until it has long since passed.
Of course, all the B.S. “good government” groups won’t say a peep about how the public is being shut out of the process, with all the back room dealing taking place. The state press corps probably won’t even realize that this whole charade is an attempt to keep as much information from them as possible, and whatever info they do get, it will be at the last possible moment. Then they can get back to covering Danny Gokey’s burgeoning career.
If Miller and Pocan ever look anyone in the eye again and say they’re for “open” and “honest” government, they should be laughed out of the Capitol.