One time in high school a friend who sat ahead of me was caught sleeping in math class. In order to embarrass him, the teacher asked him a question, which he obviously didn’t know the answer to. He had been in such situations before, and usually I whispered the answer to him so he could save what little face he had left. After all, I was pretty good at math so why not share the wealth? Although the question escapes me, I do remember the answer I told him. Negative zero. I sat with mischievous glee as he parroted back an answer that was more humorous than erroneous. And as I expected, the whole class, teacher included, erupted with laughter. He then turned back and said “Thanks a lot, dude” obviously upset that he had been easily led down the path of baboonery.
This story comes to mind as reports of Gov. McCallum’s budget become more frequent. After 14 years of GOP rule, the state of Wisconsin is now the third (or seventh depending on who you ask) highest-taxed state. McCallum has been caught sleeping as Lt. Governor. When he was awakened and told to do something about this, McCallum came up with an answer more erroneous than humorous, but still the equivalent of a negative zero, he submitted his budget for the state.
The erroneous part of Scott McCallum’s budget is its prioritization of the prison system over the education system. To give the prior a rather hefty increase, he had to skim from the latter. In particular he reduced the amount available for the Lawton Minority Retention Grant by approximately 90% statewide from over $10 million to $1.4 million. This, at a time in higher education when the esteemed institutions we compare ourselves with are boasting of increases in financial aid to students, with one school going so far as to completely replace student loans with grants.
The humorous part of Scott McCallum’s budget is how he plans to balance it. He plans to sell off the tobacco settlement for a quick fix for this budget only. Those of us who had Econ 101 might realize how silly this is. At best, it is short sighted to trade $5.9 billion spread over 25 years for $1.3 billion now, especially when that money could be invested or placed in an interest earning account. Such deals are made by junkies in need of a quick fix, not by governors who have a long-term vision and plan for a state.
The state of Wisconsin, especially Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, began to laugh at McCallum for this negative zero of a budget once it was made public. McCallum turned around and replied it wasn’t his fault, he only had four hours to create it. He was apparently upset that Tommy Thompson had easily led him down this path. Only time will tell if the people of Wisconsin will rightly dismiss McCallum for waking up and answering “Negative zero!” when called upon.