Boots & Sabers

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2044, 17 Feb 23

Evers’ budget comes into focus

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News this week. Of course, Evers’ budget is in full focus now and the legislature has already, rightly, discarded it.

Gov. Tony Evers will release his executive budget this week as the first step in the state’s biennial budget process. This is Evers’ third executive budget. The previous two were mostly ignored by the legislature as unserious. Judging by the budget highlights that Evers is slowly dribbling out before the unveiling, the governor is remaining true to form.


Let us begin with the annoying and useless. In his continued quest to make driving a car more inconvenient in Wisconsin, Governor Evers wants to spend $60 million to “construct traffic circles, pedestrian islands, bump-outs at crosswalks, and other treatments that slow vehicle traffic.” Yes, the goal is to make traffic slower. He also wants to increase the fine for not wearing a seat belt from $10 to $25. Clearly the governor has his finger on the pulse of Wisconsin’s major problems.


Not to limit himself to being annoying, the governor is also proposing to undermine Wisconsin’s election system under the guise of safer streets. The governor’s budget will propose “Driver’s Licenses for All” to include illegal aliens. Not only would this devalue citizenship by effectively giving noncitizens the ability to vote, but it would fuel the devastating humanitarian disaster at our border.


The governor is also proposing a multipronged plan designed to jack up taxes and fuel the growth of local governments. Step one is to dramatically increase the money that the state gives to local governments by funneling 20% of all state sales tax collections to them through the shared revenue program. In the first year, this would total about $576 million and then fluctuate with sales tax collections thereafter. What will happen to those state government programs currently funded by that sales tax? Presumably, that gap will have to be filled with other state taxes.


Step two is a provision that mandates that no local government will ever receive less than 95% of the prior year’s allocation under the new shared revenue plan. The sales tax is a consumption tax that fluctuates with consumer spending. Under Evers’ proposal, however, governments would be protected if there is a downturn. How will that funding be made up if sales tax collections drop? With other state taxes, of course.


The final step is that the governor would allow all counties and any municipality with a population over 30,000 to impose their own sales tax on top of the state sales tax. Taken together, the governor’s proposals would fuel the growth of local governments with state taxpayer largesse, and then allow local government to increase taxes and spending even further with their own sales taxes. If there is anything that we have learned in Washington County, it is that a government will always find a way to spend sales taxes and then complain that they are broke.


The governor is also vexed that the Legislature occasionally (not often enough) exercises legislative oversight over his spending. This normal function of checks and balances in government that was designed by our founders to curtail the worst abuses of concentrated power has become too burdensome for the governor. That is why he is proposing to eliminate legislative review of stewardship projects north of Highway 64 and for any stewardship grant or purchase under $500,000. If you think that allowing the governor to have sole authority to give away money and make purchases is a recipe for corruption, waste, and graft, you are correct. If you think that Governor Evers is trustworthy, remember that there will be other governors.


Good government assumes bad people.


If there is a theme to Governor Evers’ budget, it is that government is living large in a time of plenty.


Even if the taxpayers are suffering under the yoke of taxation and inflation, no government program or employee will be left wanting. Every time there is a mention of “investing” or “supporting” or “addressing” or “improving,” there is an increase in government spending at the end of that sentence.


If the rest of Governor Evers’ budget looks anything like the parts of it that he has released to date, legislative leaders would do well to file it in the circular file and start anew.


2044, 17 February 2023


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