Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Purpose of Mark Green’s Vagueness on Public Finance

I wrote yesterday about the vagueness of Mark Green’s plans for the state budget, but I didn’t get into likely reasons for why those plans – at least publicly – remain undefined.

The Journal-Sentinel does its best this morning to make Green’s budget plans appear detailed by focusing on his ambiguous pledges to reduce the tax burden, freeze state tax revenue, and not to use line item vetoes to increase the size of the budget.

(Side-Note: To translate that last one into real terms, it means that if Green was governor during the last budget cycle, he would’ve approved $50 million extra in cuts to the UW System – I guess that’s how he plans to “get the UW back on track,” as his recent campaign web-mercial promises.)

But the fact is until Green is more specific about what he will restrict and how he will restrict it, his plans for the budget remain woefully vague.

That, however, wasn’t always the case. Earlier this year, Green publicly got behind a very detailed plan for the budget – the failed “Taxpayer Protection Amendment.” When the TP Amendment went down in flames in the spring, it demonstrated a significant rift in the state GOP on the topic of public finance.

The original amendment – which Green exuberantly supported – was a 10-page document that was very clear about what revenue it restricted (everything) and how it would restrict it (constitutionally).

Due to the broadness of the amendment, it faced opposition by GOP moderates in the state legislature. When it looked like the original amendment would be shot down, supporters began a mad dash to re-craft it into an acceptable form. The version that finally passed in the Assembly at 4:30am – dubbed the “bar-time amendment” – was still too extreme for Senate Republicans, and it had the added effect of alienating the far right Republicans who backed the original amendment and felt the new version was too soft.

To add to the tension on the right, Tommy Thompson – who opposed the TP Amendment – was toying with a possible run for governor at the time. If Thompson had decided to throw his hat in the race, it would’ve effectively shifted the power in the party back to moderates and, thereby, hurt the chances for another TABOR incarnation in the next legislative session.

Instead, Thompson decided not to run, and now the far right faction of the state GOP – with support from Green – is positioning itself for another TABOR run.

The 2006 Republican platform, which was created after the TP Amendment failed and Thompson withdrew his name from gubernatorial contention, makes this clear. The platform opens with a quote from Mark Green and later reads (emphasis mine): “Because Wisconsin citizens still carry a heavier tax burden than citizens of other states, we call for a State constitutional amendment to limit government growth.”

And a new GOP front group called the Wisconsin Center for Economic Prosperity (WCEP) has just launched in Waukesha County with the stated purpose of getting Republican legislators elected who will back writing restrictive and broad fiscal policy into the state constitution this upcoming legislative session.

But the first order of business for WCEP is to hold a fundraiser this Thursday for – you guessed it – Mark Green.

So while Green is remaining vague about his position on the state budget in public, behind the scenes it’s very clear what he supports. But due to the tension that still exists in the GOP regarding the TP Amendment, Green will likely avoid breaking open that wound in front of the cameras, instead opting for undefined controls on unspecified state programs – a position that, unlike writing fiscal policy into the constitution, few Republicans will find objectionable and few in the general public will view as extreme.

As the Cap Times reported yesterday: “Green declined to offer specifics on what he believes should be the right size for state government and said he would make that determination as governor.”

How convenient.


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