To quote Yogi Bera, "It's déjà vu all over again."
Yesterday, the state Senate and Assembly met in special sessions to debate and vote on Gov. Jim Doyle's "compromise" budget proposal. Truth be told, it really doesn't strike me as that much of a compromise. I mean, can you really call a budget that is nearly 85 percent of the governor's original proposal a compromise?
Nearly $1 billion of new taxes are still in the "compromise" budget. The cigarette tax, the hospital bed and revenue tax and the gas tax — excuse me, the gross oil revenue fee — are all still in place. The property tax freeze that Mr. Doyle signed into law two years ago has lapsed due to a sunset clause and is not in the new budget. All totaled, it sounds like an awful lot of tax increases to me. Aside from losing Healthy Wisconsin, what is it that the Democrats gave up?
In an editorial Sunday, the Green Bay Press-Gazette wrote that the state Democrats are committed to increasing taxes and spending, and it is up to the Republicans to determine which taxes and spending items they are willing to accept. The Assembly Republicans have signaled that they would be willing to accept the cigarette tax increase, and by passing AB 506, they have already gone on record that they will accept the Democrats' spending levels on K-12 education. The ball is now in the Senate's court, and it is time to see what meaningful concessions it will make.
Will the Senate Democrats meet the Republicans at least halfway on the UW System budget? Will the Senate Democrats make any concessions on property-tax relief or taxes in general?
Based on a column written by Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson, D-Beloit, over the weekend, the answer to those questions is no.
It is more of the same from Ms. Robson. Rather than offer any real solutions to the budget impasse, Ms. Robson instead levels nothing but accusations of extremism against Assembly Republicans. According to her argument, Wisconsin Republicans are more concerned with satisfying their big tobacco and big oil taskmasters than helping anyone who may actually live in the state of Wisconsin.
But here's the thing, the proposed tobacco tax would be among the highest in the nation, and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has already issued an opinion that enforcing the gas tax — that is, preventing the tax from being passed on to the consumer — is not possible. That means any tax on the "big oil" companies will almost certainly be passed on to every single one of us who drives a car. Standing in the way of higher gas prices and punitive taxes shouldn't be an extreme position, but according to Ms. Robson, it is.
What really seems odd to me was Ms. Robson's utterly disingenuous assertion: "Enough is enough. It's mid-October, and it's time for Wisconsin to have a budget. Our schools, universities, communities and property taxpayers have waited long enough." If this is the case, then why did Ms. Robson refuse to bring K-12 education funding — that was passed with 20 Democratic votes in the Assembly — to the Senate floor for a vote? When the deadline for new figures on K-12 spending loomed large — along with a $600 million property-tax increase — Ms. Robson did nothing more than complain that it is irresponsible to pass a budget piece by piece.
So, why is it that Ms. Robson — or any other Democrat for that matter — has not said one word of criticism about the fact that Mr. Doyle's most recent proposal excludes the Department of Transportation budget so that it can be brought up separately? If it was wrong to pass one piece of the budget when it was proposed by the Assembly Republicans, it should be wrong when Mr. Doyle proposes it. But of course that would require Ms. Robson to be consistent in her attacks.
Finally, if there is any doubt that the governor's "compromise" budget is really no compromise at all, look no further than the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's story about the "incentives" Mr. Doyle has so generously included in this version of the budget to entice Republican legislators to change their votes. Included in the proposal is plenty of pork for moderate Republicans that would be politically unpopular to vote against. Among other things, the proposal includes money for projects in the districts of Republicans Mary Williams, Sheryl Albers, Brett Davis, Terry Musser and Jeff Wood. Most of the projects are new additions to the budget and can only be seen as an attempt to flip these legislators' votes.
It makes me wonder: If the governor really had proposed a compromise, would he need to try and bribe some Republicans to vote for the bill? If the governor had introduced a serious compromise budget, the answer would be no. Unfortunately, Mr. Doyle did no such thing, and we are still left with no new state budget.
Mike Hahn ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history and political science.