My column for the West Bend Daily News is online and in print. I’m not a fan of the budget that the JFC passed. Yes, they resisted the ultra-liberal policy ideas of Evers, but this budget could have been passed by any Democratic legislature in the past 40 years and you wouldn’t be able to tell a difference.
Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee has finished the state budget and sent it to each house of the Legislature for approval. House Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have said that they expect their respective houses to pass the budget and send it to the governor within the next few weeks. Conservatives in both houses will have to delay that timetable because this budget still needs a lot of work.
Simply put, the budget passed by the Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee spends too much, borrows too much, raises too many taxes and fees, and fails to deliver on the promises made by Republican politicians in the last election.
When Gov. Tony Evers was elected, Wisconsinites knew that they were getting a governor who is much more liberal than Gov. Scott Walker. What they did not fully appreciate, perhaps, is just how liberal and rigid Governor Evers would be. During the first few months of Evers’ term, the Republicans reached out several times to find common ground and compromise on some of Evers’ stated initiatives. Each and every time, Evers rebuffed them and insulted their efforts to anyone who would listen. Evers even went so far as to call Republican leaders sexist for having the temerity to want to actually speak with the governor instead of his underlings.
While isolating himself in his Fortress of Hebetude, Governor Evers underscored his unwillingness to compromise by unleashing a budget proposal so riddled with liberal largesse that the Republicans in the Legislature had to toss it in the dustbin and start from scratch. Yet, despite everything, the budget passed by the Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee is far closer to Evers’ budget than they would like to admit. They cast aside most of Evers’ liberal policies, but left in place the bulk of the spending and taxing.
Overall, the budget passed by the JFC increases state government spending by about $4 billion, or 5.2%. That compares to a spending increase of $6.4 billion, or 8.3%, proposed by Governor Evers. That compares to an average inflation-adjusted personal income growth rate of 1.5% since the Great Recession according to the Pew Charitable Trust. Once again, state government spending outstrips Wisconsinites’ ability to pay.
Where is all of that spending going? The JFC budget includes spending an additional $500 million on K-12 schools. This is on top of the $639 million in additional spending that the Republicans included in the previous budget. The JFC budget spends more than $12 billion on K-12 education — by far the largest total in state history. But despite the massive spending increases, Wisconsin’s government schools continue
to deliver mediocre results. Spending more money on mediocrity will only encourage more mediocrity.
The JFC budget spends an additional $58 million on the UW System. This is the same system that lavishly wastes money on useless infrastructure and bloated staff while enrollment continues to decline. On top of the $58 million for operations, the UW System would receive another $1 billion to dump into more buildings. Much like so many local school districts, UW officials continue to prioritize swank buildings over delivering a better education.
When it comes to transportation, the JFC budget would spend an additional $484 million. Despite a recent report that detailed the waste and poor management that is endemic in the Department of Transportation, Republicans decided to throw more money into the pockets of the road builders without demanding a single iota of additional accountability or reform. Once again, the spending comes with a promise of some future reform that nobody really believes will happen.
I could go on, but you get the point. At the last minute, the Republicans threw in a moderate income tax cut of $321.5 million that would lower the second-lowest income tax bracket. While tax cuts are always welcome, this one is a calculated distraction. Evers will almost certainly use his powerful line-item veto power to veto the tax cut while leaving all of the spending in place. Republicans will then loudly wail about the veto of tax cuts in the press while celebrating the spending increases in private. It is the kind of cynical political gamesmanship that make people hate politicians.
The Republican leaders and the Joint Finance Committee had the opportunity to pass a fiscally conservative budget that drew a sharp contrast with Evers’ liberal budget. Instead, they gave the people a budget that could have been passed by any Democratic Wisconsin Legislature in the past 40 years. Now it is up to the rank-and-file Republicans and conservatives in the legislature to buck their leadership’s tax and spend proclivities and give the people who elected them a budget they can afford.