Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Budget problems start at basic level

The Wisconsin state budget is now 107 days late. Despite compromises made since the July 1 deadline, the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled Assembly remain at odds over issues like raising the state cigarette tax, funding levels for the University of Wisconsin System, and a proposed hospital tax.

But even as lawmakers prepare to vote on a new version — a compromise proposed by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle — disagreements extend beyond monetary issues to why negotiations got so mired in the first place.

Democrats want to spend more money than Republicans. Doyle's original proposal included an 8.5-percent increase over previous spending, and the two sides are grappling over $1 billion worth of differences in their respective visions for the budget.


"That's more (money) than a fish fry," said Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield. "We've got a lot of work to do."

Democrats, led by Doyle, place blame on the Republican camp, according to Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison.

"The Republican members of the conference committee do not seem in a hurry to pass a budget," Parisi said. "They don't believe we need government. I think they're playing politics."

Republicans like Kanavas are equally certain Democrats are to blame.

"I think [the delay] is a natural outcome of Governor Doyle and the Democrats proposing a budget that was so out of whack with Wisconsin's values and principles that this was bound to happen," Kanavas said.

Doyle, who was re-elected last year, owes that victory to a reduced-taxation campaign platform, Kanavas said, and is hurting himself by pushing for spending increases that amount to new taxes. Kanavas added these taxes would hurt Wisconsin's growth and drive bright young people out of the state.

"Everyone and their brother is saying, ‘What happened to the guy who ran for office?'" Kanavas said.

However, not everything the Democrats want costs money, according to Parisi. He said the hospital tax will allow Wisconsin to receive millions of dollars in federal funding, and the cigarette tax impacts only smokers.

Furthermore, Parisi said delaying the budget would cost taxpayers extra money because municipalities are still waiting to hear about state aid needed to pay inflationary costs like employee raises and increased energy costs.

"People's property taxes will go up if we don't pass a budget," Parisi said.

The state has faced difficult budget sessions before.

The current record for longest budget delay comes from 1971, when large-scale UW System changes delayed the final budget until Oct 27. The last time the budget was significantly late was in 1999, when a similarly divided legislature failed to reach agreement until Oct 3. Another difficult year was 2001, when large deficits forced lawmakers into often-controversial decisions.

Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said budget difficulties have been rising since about 1995. Even if this current budget struggle doesn't set a new record, he thinks it wins the prize for the worst delay over the least controversial budget.

"This is about as dysfunctional as I've seen them," McCabe said. "It's not any of the issues that are on the table. It shouldn't be that difficult."

McCabe said in 1995 there was a rise in the role of money in state politics, as television and other media forces compelled politicians to pay more for their campaigns. He said he thinks state legislators are using the delayed budget as a means of squeezing more funds from special interests.

Partisan bickering, McCabe added, may stem from low competition in elections, which itself stems from districts that are deliberately drawn to include large numbers of one party's voters.

"The vast majority of elections are not close," McCabe said. "You get legislators who are really good at talking to voters on their side, but no good at talking to those on the other side."

Another factor McCabe said added to the dispute is the gradual replacement of part-time legislators by full-time ones, who have fewer commitments to encourage them to finish quickly.

"They don't have jobs to get back to," McCabe said, calling them "career politicians who have nothing to do but play politics."

Ultimately, McCabe said long-term changes to the political system are necessary. In the meantime, he said, the budget process will suffer.

"It's very sad to see how politics has taken a front seat and the public interest has taken a back seat," McCabe said.

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