Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Taking the Hysterical Out of Hysterical Anti-Tax Message


Steve Walters of the Journal Sentinel captures a back-and-forth that took place yesterday between state Revenue Secretary Roger Ervin and WMC president Jim Haney on the role of the state's corporate lobby.

The harsher tone the Doyle administration is taking with the WMC this year is noticeable. Not only did the WMC run ads against Doyle, it also poured a ton of money into the attorney general race to keep Kathleen Falk -- Doyle's preferred candidate -- out of office. And lately the group has been speaking out against the revenue increases in Doyle's proposed budget.

Ervin said that WMC focuses too much on taxes at the expense of other factors that also impact economic development and business climate. Haney responded by saying that while the Doyle administration would like WMC to say taxes aren't bad, "That's not true."

Of course, not all WMC members would agree with Haney. According to Northwestern Mutual Life CEO Edward Zore at a forum in Milwaukee in February: "Taxes for us are not bad." And WMC board member Randy Smith, president of City Brewing Company, noted last month: "Sure, taxes are important but they don't make or break us."

And that comment by Smith really sums up what Ervin was saying. It's not that WMC needs to completely abandon its anti-tax message; but to fully address the varying needs of businesses in the state, it should balance it with other messages, even if that means backing issues that rely on public revenue such as job training and university research.

For instance, the results of WMC's annual survey on the Wisconsin economy are in for 2007, and while the group hasn't released the full results on its website, the press release on the survey emphasized the high demand for skilled workers in the state and the overall strong confidence Wisconsin manufacturers have in the future of the state's economy.

In fact, according to the survey, almost 60 percent of respondents said they couldn't find qualified candidates to fill job openings in the area of skilled production, and 43 percent said they plan to increase hiring in the future.

Doesn't this seem to be a great time to put the weight of the state's biggest lobby group behind the budget initiatives aimed at increasing research and retention funding for the UW, along with pushing for more state funding for the technical college system?

A Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance study just last month found that the technical college system is one of the biggest economic drivers in the state with an annual economic impact of nearly $7 billion, and its an entity that's tailor-made to churn out the skilled production workers our state's businesses need. According to the study, taxpayers get a return of $3.62 for every $1.00 put into the tech colleges.

Likewise, in Milwaukee, UWM chancellor Carlos Santiago is fighting to revitalize Milwaukee as the state's economic engine by expanding the university's engineering and biotechnology fields, the effects of which would undoubtedly benefit state manufacturers.

But all of this takes money. And this money comes through the state biennial budget.

As long as WMC's sole message on the state budget is opposition to revenue increases, it's, in effect, arguing against some of the very funding that could help its members get the skilled workers and research opportunities they need.

This doesn't mean, of course, that the WMC needs to back everything in the budget or even the majority of revenue increases. But press releases like this one that simply shoot down any and all revenue increases without any consideration for what those increases could help fund is overly-simplistic at best and harmful to the state's economy at worst.

Where's the press release arguing that the technical college system should be made a higher state budget priority? Where's the radio ad urging legislators to back UWM's research growth initiative or funding for bio-fuels research at UW-Stevens Point? Where's the television spot aimed at preserving the Wisconsin Shares child care program so parents can go to work and know their kids are safe?

It's time WMC takes the hysterical out of its hysterical anti-tax message and starts positively contributing to the varied solutions that are needed to further our state's economy.

UPDATE: The WisPolitics Budget Blog is reporting that the JFC decided today to cut half of the budget funding for a $6 million tech college grant initiative that was intended for, according to the governor's proposal, "targeted job training for the state's major growth industries in the manufacturing and business services sectors."

This is a perfect example of something WMC should be putting its weight behind. Does anyone think that the $3 million would've been cut if WMC stood up for this modest, yet economically important, initiative?

LATE UPDATE (5/3): Still nothing out of WMC on the JFC's move yesterday to cut funding for skilled worker training. But the group did take the time to release a memo to the JFC urging legislators to cut more revenue from the budget.

It just defies logic. WMC releases an internal survey that found 60 percent of responding members couldn't find enough skilled workers to fill jobs in the last year. Literally one day after the survey results were released, legislators cut funding in half for a skilled job training initiative and WMC doesn't say a word.

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Blogger Dad29 said...

While I have my suspicions about WMC, I am sympathetic to their complaints about taxation.

But WMC, like other 'conservative' voices, misses the mark: it's the SPENDING that drives taxes. And spending is simply out of control.

Tommy!!! was a contributor to that problem, I know...

To me, the $3MM is a good expenditure. Take the friggin' money out of the DOT budget.

May 03, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

As I noted the last time you raised this point about "out of control spending," total state and local spending relative to personal income in Wisconsin ranks 24th in the nation (see pages 38 or 71). I tend to doubt most people would consider that out of control.

May 03, 2007  
Blogger Dad29 said... reason why Wisconsin can't be 40th in the nation.

But let's shoot for 30th. Easier to get there.

May 04, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Dems wouldn't have any problem with Wisconsin being 50th in spending, as long as the drop doesn't correlate with a drop in the quality of services offered by the state -- and that's, of course, the real trick.

But the initial point that most people wouldn't consider 24th to be "out of control" still holds.

May 04, 2007  

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