Monday, February 19, 2007

State GOP Gets Budget Message Across

By the time Governor Doyle formally announced his budget proposal, the state GOP was ready.

Press reports dating back a couple of weeks prior to the address alerted conservatives to the places in the budget where Doyle was going to increase revenues; so, come last Tuesday, some selective calculations by Republican legislative leaders had already pegged the total amount of new taxes -- broadly defined to include fees and assessments -- at $1.75 billion over the biennium even before Doyle gave his address.

This imposing sum, along with rhetoric that the increases would hit "every man, woman, and child" in the state was quickly gobbled up by the press that's always eager for an eye-catching story.

The AP grabbed onto the GOP narrative early in the week with an article that opened:
Buying a gun, getting a shirt cleaned, downloading a song off the Internet, driving a car and smoking a cigarette would all cost more under Gov. Jim Doyle's budget. So would getting a license to hunt elk, obtaining a copy of your birth, marriage or divorce certificate, applying to the University of Wisconsin and selling a home. And then there are two other tax increases on hospitals and oil companies that Doyle said won't get passed on to consumers, but critics said they probably will.
This AP piece was picked up by a variety of local news outlets around the state and region, including WISC-TV in Madison, the Janesville Gazette, the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, and the Winona Daily News. Even the Dallas, Texas-based National Center for Policy Analysis, a prominent right-wing think tank, ran the AP story in its "Daily Policy Digest."

And while the Journal Sentinel touched on the $1.75 billion figure in its coverage the day after the governor's budget address, the state's biggest daily waited until the widely-read Sunday paper to fully transcribe the narrative that the sum would hit every man, woman, and child in the state in an article titled "Budget Has Many Ways to Pay More."

Tucked away at the end of the JS article, after the jump from the Metro section front page, was the section on tax cuts proposed in the governor's budget.

Completely absent from the JS coverage, however, and just cited at the end of the AP piece was the fact that, due to those new tax deductions, the total size of the governor's budget is not at all out of step with previous state budget proposals, even those under past Republican governors who were praised at the time for their fiscal restraint.

But that -- along with proposals to increase health care coverage to 98 percent, financial aid amounts for college students, assistance to local governments, funds for the state crime lab, money for the state Stewardship Fund, etc. -- was largely trumped by the GOP-crafted narrative that the budget increases certain taxes, fees, and assessments by $1.75 billion for every Wisconsinite.

It seems this effort has put legislative Republicans -- who still control the state Assembly -- in a decent position as budget negotiations kick off this spring.

But the easy part where the GOP gets to talk only about what revenue it doesn't want to raise will eventually come to an end. Soon it'll need to start talking about what programs it wants to cut.

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