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Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009

Doyle's Budget is Another Shell Game

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An AP story reporting on Jim Doyle's proposed budget starts with this sentence: "Taxes will go up on smokers, the rich, and large companies."

What a surprise. Doyle's budget targets the Democrat's axis of evil- Big Tobacco, Big Money, and Big Oil.

Doyle proposed his budget in a 34-minute speech last Tuesday. The speech was like an overlong car chase in a low-budget action movie- constant evasion of responsibility with the same old plot devices used to cover some gaping budget holes.

"My budget stands up for the people who earn regular paychecks and the people who, through no fault of their own, have lost theirs," Doyle said.

Far from it. The budget takes $290 million in higher taxes on smokers (a group that is disproportionately poor), $215 million in higher corporate taxes (the corporations that provide jobs and those "regular paychecks"), $85 million in additional capital gains taxes (for anyone with those "investment" thingies), and of course, takes a big toothy bite out of Big Oil (because gasoline is just for rich people's toys, right?)

Interestingly, no state workers will be laid off or furloughed. The state's newspapers are reporting this fact as though Doyle has slashed Wisconsin's government and will be cleaning the Capital building's bathrooms in addition to his gubernatorial duties. The reality is that Wisconsin State government will not shrink. Doyle reduces spending from the General Fund, but this is a shell game. By most estimates, state government spending will increase during this budget cycle by at least 10%. Did anyone out there get a 10% raise last year? Anyone expect one this year?

And then there are the teachers, or more specifically, the teacher's union. This is one group that CAN expect a raise this year, next year, and the year after that… This budget removes the Qualified Economic Offer, which prevents teacher's unions from going to arbitration as long as they are offered at least a 3.8% yearly raise. Besides the fact that many, many people will not get any raise this year, much less a 3.8% raise. The removal of the QEO will result in higher property taxes for nearly every municipality in Wisconsin and the continuation of a more expensive status quo in school districts like MPS.

Even when Doyle gets it right, he gets it wrong. Despite nearly 70% of Wisconsin's residents making it clear that they opposed gay marriage or anything approximating it, the governor is proposing some legal protections for domestic partners- things like hospital visitation, inheritance, and family leave for sick partners. It's difficult to argue with these provisions- while redefining marriage is a bad idea, protecting those in a committed, same-sex relationship is important and reasonable. Unfortunately, Doyle would extend state employee benefits to domestic partners, thus giving government employees benefits that the private-sector taxpayers who pay for the benefits don't have (for the most part). That's simply not fair, and does nothing to advance the cause for legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

The most stunning and unfortunate part of Doyle's proposal is his absolute refusal to take any responsibility for the $5.7 billion budget shortfall. He's been governor since January of 2003- six years- and yet he acts as if he has had absolutely nothing to do with Wisconsin's dire financial situation. Spend, tax, spend more, tax more, and ultimately spend even more. This has been Doyle's modus operandi for six years- but none of this is his fault. It must have been George Bush.