Friday, September 28, 2007

Huebsch Needs Dem Votes...Lots of Them

A Journal Sentinel article this morning on the budget talks highlighted an interesting point.

It's been known that eventually it would happen, but now that Speaker Huebsch has agreed to at least increase the cigarette tax, it effectively neutralizes the 24 Assembly legislators who signed "no-tax increase" pledges, assuming none of them go back on their word.

Twenty-two of those legislators are from the right side of the aisle, which puts the number of GOPers able to vote for a budget compromise at 30 and the number of Dems at 45.

That means Huebsch needs at least 20 Dem votes to pass a budget compromise, and Assembly Democratic Leader Jim Krueser had the perfect response. According to the JS, Krueser said he could deliver those needed votes, but "that the more votes Huebsch needs, the more the budget would have to reflect Democratic initiatives."

It's not too unlikely that Huebsch could lose a few more GOP votes with his agreement on the medical malpractice fund transfer, or any other agreements he might make in the coming weeks, which could bring the total vote tally needed pretty close to an even split between Repubs and Dems in the Assembly.

Considering the Dems will be providing all of the needed votes in the Senate, at least 40 percent of the needed votes in the Assembly (and maybe more), and the governor's signature on a budget compromise, what do you suppose that should mean for the priorities of that budget?

It's becoming pretty apparent why Huebsch and the other GOP leaders cringed when those pledges were making the rounds last spring.

UPDATE (9/29): From today's JS:
Twenty-five Assembly Republicans have signed pledges saying they would not vote for tax increases, though two of them - Rep. J.A. "Doc" Hines (R-Oxford) and Rep. Eugene Hahn (R-Cambria) - said Friday they could tolerate a budget that raised the cigarette tax. Seven others said they would not. The remainder could not be reached or said they would have to see the overall package.
Two said they would vote for increased taxes, and others said they'd consider it? I'm just not following the political logic on this. Why would you sign a pledge to do something in an attempt to curry political favor, and then announce your willingness to go back on your word less than 6 months later?

Oh, well, it's their re-election...

But this does change the equation a bit by at least giving Huebsch a few more willing GOP legislators to work with when trying to pull together a vote on a compromise budget.

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15 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You need to read closer. The cig tax offer was not accepted by the dems because it would eliminate all the other taxes.

The cig offer does not just go into play with no strings attached. And now that the K-12 deadline will pass with no action by the Senate Dems - the K-12 off is also off the table.

Don't be holding your breath for that prized Dem budget...

September 28, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I know it came as part of an offer (pulling Healthy WI also came as part of an offer).

The point is that it was a clear sign that Huebsch isn't going to be sticking with the no-tax increase pledge that 22 of his colleagues made. Everyone figured it was coming -- otherwise Huebsch himself probably would've signed the pledge -- but this was the first formal overture that signaled it was going to happen. Whether it happens now or later, Huebsch has essentially and formally agreed to at least some tax increase with his cigarette tax offer. And, at this point, I just don't see a budget being passed without the cigarette tax now that Huebsch's willingness to support it in some capacity has become apparent.

September 28, 2007  
Anonymous John P said...

Seth:

Do you think the raid of the patient compensation fund is a good idea?

September 28, 2007  
Blogger Xoff said...

Another side effect of the pledge by those 24 is that, since they are certain to vote against the eventual budget package, there is no need to accomodate them or include their "bottom lines" in any budget being put together.

They have basically pledged themselves out of the process.

Congrats, Owen.

September 28, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

To be honest, John, I'm not very familiar with the patient compensation fund transfer. My general feeling is that money dedicated to a particular fund shouldn't be moved unless there's an urgent reason. In this case, the money is going into another fund to be used for a variety of health care purposes, which is important, but it doesn't appear to be urgent.

Xoff,

That's exactly right.

September 28, 2007  
Anonymous John P said...

Seth:

The Patient Compensation fund was set up to pay out patients injured by malpractice claims. Doctors and hospitals pay into this fund. No tax dollars are allocated to this fund. The Governor has no business stealing from this fund. The Wisconsin Medical Society and the Wisconsin Hospital Associations are against this theft. Many have questioned the solvency of the fund after such a transfer. I am not sure how legally he can do this, since it was set up as an irrevocable trust.

I would rather see a hospital tax, then this raid. This is just a hidden tax, since premiums will have to be increased to make up the shortfalls

September 28, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I agree with much of what you say, John, particularly the part about taking from a fund that's not funded by taxpayer dollars. But I'd like to see some hard data on how this transfer is impacting the patient compensation fund's solvency before jumping to conclusions about the potentially dire effects of the proposed transfer.

I wrote a bit on the compensation fund early last year in the context of the increase in the medical malpractice award limit. You can read that here. Bottom line, the patient fund has run a surplus averaging nearly $130 million per year since 1989. This isn't to say that the fund transfer is appropriate -- I really don't think that it is -- but it does suggest that the proposed $175 million transfer isn't necessarily going to bust the fund wide open.

Still, you're right on the fundamental point that the transfer isn't a good public policy move. What it's funding may be legitimate and a positive step, but it doesn't seem that the ends justify the means in this case.

September 28, 2007  
Anonymous John P said...

Seth:

I read your blog regarding the malpractice cap. I can tell you first hand that many OB/GYN's left Illinois because of the malpractive environment and many came to Wisconsin. This is a fact. It benefits Wisconsin greatly that we have a cap on non economic damages and have the patients compensation fund. That is one of the reason my wife chose Wisconsin to practice instead of in another state.

I believe the Legislative Audit Bureau reported on what a transfer would do to the fund. I will try to find the site and I will send you the link if I can find it.

September 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With or without the pledge, the only way a tax-increase budget will pass is with at least 35 Assembly Democrat votes.

If the compromise is anything more than a cigarette tax, then you aren't likely to get more than 10 Republican votes for any compromise.

The Republicans aren't going to own those tax-increases. Why should they?

September 28, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Anon,

When you take away the cigarette tax, the hospital assessment, and the real estate transfer fee -- the latter two the Dems agreed to discard in one of their latest proposals -- you're basically left with the oil company assessment and combined reporting. That's not a whole lot; in fact, WisPolitics reported yesterday that the two sides are about $300 million apart from an agreement. It seems likely the budget is going to be ready for a vote in the next week or two, and there will be enough votes in the Assembly to pass it -- the question remains, which side is going to be providing the bulk of those votes, and how does that shape what's in the budget?

September 28, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

John,

I don't doubt some docs have come to this state and left others because of medical malpractice caps. But it's also a fact that the patient compensation fund has remained steadily solvent over the last nearly 20 years regardless of whether a cap has been in place in WI.

But that's a separate issue that whether to transfer money out of the patient compensation fund. I ultimately think that one hinges on the fact that the fund isn't taxpayer-supported, which means transferring money out of it for public purposes is highly questionable.

September 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now, according to Nass on the WisPolitics budget blog, there wasn't even an offer on the cigarette tax -- or on anything else discussed here.

That would directly contradict quotes from Huebsch. So does he even have the GOP votes he needs?

September 28, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Since Huebsch is in the leadership, I'd trust his ability to sway the 10-15 GOP members that would be needed for a budget compromise over Nass' ability to convince them to stay put. That said, it doesn't surprise me that GOP members aren't going to speak out publicly in favor of a cigarette tax or any other tax increase unless it's part of a larger budget agreement. There's no incentive for them to openly jump on board until it comes to vote time.

But if Huebsch is unable to get at least 1/2 of the 30 remaining Republicans in the Assembly (i.e., those who didn't sign pledges) to agree to a budget compromise, then his leadership abilities are seriously in question, and the similarities to the TABOR fiasco from the spring of last year would be striking.

September 29, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And in both cases, it's unclear whether they're following their legislative leadership or blogs. And whether some of them really understand blogs.

September 29, 2007  
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