Thursday, June 14, 2007

GOP to Force a Mark Green Budget

A little over a year ago, while campaigning for governor, Mark Green made a pledge to freeze state spending levels in the '07-'09 budget if he was elected.

Many observers didn't put much stock in Green's pledge considering he also pledged to decrease revenues through tax cuts and increase costs through some new programming, most of which was never detailed. All-in-all, the Journal Sentinel estimated that Green would've needed to cut state operations by over $1 billion to make all of his pledges work.

But even though Green lost the November election by around 160,000 votes, it looks like his campaign promise for a frozen state budget might come true, at least for awhile. Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) has been making the media rounds to tell everyone about the possibility of a budget impasse over new tax revenues in the budget that made it out of the JFC last week.

I tend to agree with the Recess Supervisor that stalling the budget process is going to create significant PR problems for the state GOP. Those on the right side of the blogosphere will almost certainly celebrate the move, but they're also the ones who enthusiastically supported TABOR and Mark Green's candidacy.

Although much of the state surely doesn't like the idea of tax increases, they also won't like the idea of risking important public services on the grounds of maintaining ideological purity. For most people, there's a balance that needs to be made between what they pay and what the public gets back in return. This is a balance that's completely ignored by one-sided arguments for either increased services regardless of cost or -- the avenue the GOP is heading down -- one-sided arguments for tax freezes regardless of services.

But, then again, Huebsch really isn't talking about a true freeze, certainly not in the way that Green talked about a freeze that wouldn't even touch normal revenue growth.

Huebsch has raised the prospect of passing a budget for some big ticket items, like schools, while holding back the rest, and he's suggested that while the Assembly budget will include no tax increases, fee increases -- which amount to a little over $270 million in the governor's budget -- are still very much on the table (much to the chagrin of the fiscal conservative base).

Nevertheless, it's still going to be a tightrope walk for the GOP leadership. Even setting schools aside, there are still a number of other issues ranging from child care subsidies for low income families to GPS tracking of sex offenders to health coverage for all children through BadgerCare Plus to expansion of the state crime lab, among many more, that will remain stagnant until a budget passes and become jeopardized unless a budget passes that includes adequate funding.

And, even more than that, what's probably most detrimental to the GOP heading into this confrontation is that it will be perceived as fighting for ideology above all else.

The language will be populist -- "The taxpayers can't afford it" -- but the overriding perception still will be that Republicans are standing in the way of funding necessary and popular services since the GOP formula for what the taxpayers can "afford" doesn't ever actually consider the "it" portion of that ambiguous tag line.

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Blogger Dad29 said...

That minor $2.15 BILLION State deficit is just the Man Behind the Tree?

June 14, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

What $2.15 billion state deficit? Are you referring to advanced commitments? Those are all covered under Doyle's proposed budget and, in fact, his budget works to decrease those commitments in the future, which is one point that has brought him praise, even by the head of the WPRI.

And I'm still waiting for the GOP leadership to explain what their tax freeze budget plans to cut to account for the over $1 billion hole that ideological pledge would create.

June 14, 2007  
Blogger The Recess Supervisor said...


I enjoyed your post.

The problem with the conservatives in this budget discussion is from a political position and not necessarily an ideological one.

Conservatives, from a political perspective, seem to believe that people get elected to take positions and further an ideology. But most voters believe that people get elected to work together and get things done.

This is why if Huebsch is dumb enough to try walking way, Republicans will get spanked not only by the media, but will be chastised by most voters. Voters will not look fondly upon a party that ostensibly abdicates the responsibility it was charged with.

Besides, everyone anywhere near the Capitol knows that this talk of impasse has nothing to do with conservative principles and everything to do with the fact that the Assembly GOP caucus is an absolute train wreck right now. You couldn't get 27 people in that room to agree on the time of day, let alone a strategy for taking massive swipes at state programs in order to avoid tax and fee increases.

For some 20 years, Republicans sold the message that they would "tax less, spend less, and borrow less" than the Democrats. And by and large, that message sold well. The problem now is that conservatives basically want victory in an absolute sense - no new taxes, no new spending, no new borrowing.

This budget has been set up that even if the Republicans are largely successful in containing many of Doyle's new initiatives, their efforts will still be a failure if a few of of them have to be accepted as part of a compromise. To conservatives, the only way the Assembly GOP will "win" is if it walks away, the very strategy that will cause them to "lose" overwhelmingly among the general public.

This is what happens when guys like John Gard and Mike Huebsch decide to let talk radio and their blogger sycophants drive the agenda. You can't give control of the message to a narrow sliver of the population just because it screams and bitches the loudest. But that's just what they've done, and now they're screwed.

June 14, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for your comment, Recess Supervisor. I couldn't agree more. Your point about politics vs. ideology is well-taken. It's likely the vast majority of Republicans in the Assembly push the "no new taxes, no new spending, no new borrowing" for political expediency (except maybe Lasee -- he seems like a true believer, which I'm sure he'd take as a compliment). The fiscal conservative base in SE Wisconsin -- or the "fire-breathing tax-limiting fiscal conservatives," as Sykes once described them -- are probably driven more by ideology, in most cases, though there may be some truth to the argument that the radio talkers are more interested in listeners than truly believing in anything, and hard lines sell better than nuanced ones.

In the end, though, whether it's perceived as a result of politics or ideology, I agree with you that walking away from the budget table is only going to hurt the GOP in '08. And what's truly the most eye-opening is the belief among at least some of the fiscal conservative base that walking away is the only way to ensure victory in the next election.

June 15, 2007  

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