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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How Laws Shouldn’t Be Made

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At the urging of leaders in criminal justice and law enforcement throughout the state, Gov. Scott Walker vetoed a Republican attempt to return sleazy bail bondsmen and bounty hunters to Wisconsin, where they’ve been outlawed since 1979.

It shouldn’t be surprising that a governor would veto a trashy business that preys on poor people in trouble with the law and unleashes low-life bounty hunters throughout a state who often operate on the edge of the law themselves.

But no one could be certain what Walker would do until he announced his vetoes when he signed a budget chock full of such sleazy provisions put together by Walker’s Republican colleagues, mostly behind closed doors.

That’s what’s become of state government in Wisconsin.

Republicans aren’t even required to make a pretense of justifying corrupt law changes inserted into the state budget for no purpose other than benefiting shady businesses willing to contribute to their campaigns.

Since private bail bondsmen were outlawed in Wisconsin, local court officials created a much better system that helps judges set bail based on actual risk to the public. That system has a better record than bail bondsmen of assuring that those who are released show up in court. And if someone is convicted, bail goes to compensate victims and pay court costs instead of going into the pockets of private bail bondsmen.

So why would Republicans want to destroy a positive reform and return to a bad system that reduces public safety and only benefits the private bail industry?

Nobody knows. Because Republican legislators never bothered to debate it. Republicans simply inserted the appalling change into the budget late at night and then voted for it as a party in both houses of the Legislature without a word of explanation.

That’s what it means to have one-party control of state government. You don’t even have to make up some fake excuse to vote for something a lobbyist wants that benefits only his client.

It’s no accident that the private bail industry is represented by some of the same lobbyists as rent-to-own stores in Wisconsin, another disreputable business that pushed for and nearly won favorable treatment in the state budget.

But don’t kid yourself that Walker’s veto of bail bondsmen represents any serious form of checks and balances over corrupt legislation. The cash bail industry is simply small potatoes to a potential presidential candidate already lining up right-wing millionaire campaign contributors across the country.

Besides, Walker’s other budget vetoes don’t exactly make him a hero of good government.

Walker claimed he was vetoing an attempt to circumvent enrollment caps on a statewide school voucher program to honor an agreement with Senate Republicans.

But anyone watching the relentless expansion of private school vouchers in Wisconsin over the past 23 years knows enrollment caps are meaningless anyway. Every time private schools attract enough voucher students to hit enrollment caps, Republicans simply raise them.

Walker’s most audacious leap in this budget was to expand the use of vouchers from two counties to a statewide program. Walker’s already said his goal is to remove all income limits for parents receiving vouchers.

And the budget gives private school parents, regardless of income, up to a whopping $4,000 tax deduction for every K-8 student and a $10,000 deduction for every high school student—the highest deductions in the nation.

Removing all enrollment caps, still a few years off, will be the final coup to stick taxpayers with paying for all public and private schools statewide.

The most mean-spirited Walker veto, coming out of the blue, was to kill $3.5 million mostly intended for Milwaukee to help tear down vacant and dilapidated homes left by the foreclosure crisis.

It was second time Walker gratuitously kicked Milwaukee in the teeth by denying funds to relieve the enormous costs of foreclosures.

Last year Wisconsin received $141 million as its portion of a national settlement from major banks that defrauded homeowners. Walker diverted $31.6 million that could have relieved the city and homeowners in foreclosure and used it instead to help build a state budget surplus.

The few bad items Walker removed from the budget, such as bail bondsmen and bounty hunters no one wanted, pale next to all the terrible public policy Walker and Republicans intentionally loaded into the budget:

  • Denying Medicaid coverage to nearly 90,000 uninsured poor people fully paid for by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Allowing Walker to sell off any state asset—government buildings, university facilities, power plants, prisons, highways, everything—to private, profit-making companies without taking bids.
  • Even an enormous state tax cut is heavily weighted so only the super wealthy will notice any real benefit. The wealthy get two-thirds of the money.

Average families will simply watch the income inequality widen between themselves and those at the top while their local communities and government services deteriorate.

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