Monday, August 21, 2006

No Need to be Coy, Congressman Green

Lines like this one are becoming familiar over the course of this year's gubernatorial race: "Doyle staked out his position on transportation, and Green gave hints of his... ."

It must have been tough for the Journal-Sentinel to print, which is probably why the article found itself on page 5 of the Metro section.

Doyle has pledged to not raise the gas tax if re-elected, Green did not say what he would do with the gas tax if he is elected.

Doyle offered a proposal to increase the vehicle registration fee from $55 to $65, Green did not say whether or not he supports such a move.

Green did offer up that he might shift $700 million from the state's general fund to the transportation fund, but -- and here's the kicker -- he wouldn't say how (or if) he would fill the hole that move would create in the general fund, which is the primary fund for education, health care, law enforcement, etc.

Overarching everything that Green says on the budget is his support for a TABOR-type amendment and his promise to not run again if the so-called tax burden goes up on his watch.

Supporting TABOR will only get Green so far since -- in addition to it being a highly unpopular measure -- the soonest it could be enacted is after the 2009-2011 budget is passed. That means the amendment can have absolutely no impact on the two biennial budgets the winner of the Doyle-Green race will need to craft.

And the tax burden pledge puts Green in the tough position of needing to cut revenue somewhere if he chooses to make a move like raising the gas tax or the vehicle registration fee. For instance, if Green did move $700 million from the general fund to the transportation fund, there's no way he could replace the hole without breaking his pledge -- or drastically reducing revenue in some other fund.

In essence, the pledge puts him under TABOR-like restrictions with the only potential savior being an enormous rise in state personal income over the next four years.

It will be interesting to watch the Doyle-Green debate on public finance that's planned for September 15 in Waukesha.

I have a feeling we'll hear about Green's tax burden pledge quite a bit that evening (he'll keep his support for TABOR under tight wraps...unless, that is, he's courting a special interest) -- I just hope someone puts him on the spot about exactly what that soundbite means for public finance in Wisconsin.


UPDATE: Now Green says he'll cut two cents from the gas tax -- the two cents that's used to fund clean-ups for leaking underground fuel storage tanks at stations. Talk about taking a bad political move and making it worse.


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