Earlier this week, the state of Wisconsin forecasted a possible debt of $400 million. The forecast stemmed from decreased tax revenues and the cloudy backdrop of a national recession. In its letter, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau announced it would wait until early February to give an official assessment of the budget.
Reaction to this forecast was swift and stormy. Of the six legislators who responded to the letter on the same day, four thundered their opposition to raising taxes, one boomed that cutting government spending wasn’t the answer and one suggested taking a closer look at the problem and cut or tax where appropriate. In short, five ultimatums were delivered, and only one voice called for a pragmatic approach. This five-one ratio of stubbornness to pragmatism reflects our current state Legislature as a whole. The abundance of stubbornness has been a problem for at least six months and will continue to be a problem as we weather the oncoming recession.
To take one case study from these five ultimatums, Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, responded to the bureau’s forecast by predicting a zero percent chance of raining more taxes on Wisconsin. He pledged to combat the looming deficit with government spending cuts alone, and vowed to steer clear of any tax increases.
Unfortunately, Mr. Huebsch ruled out this option before even knowing the nature of the deficit. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau?s forecast for dark skies was just a preliminary estimation of tax returns that anticipated the complete report the week of Feb. 10. This report would provide, according to the bureau?s letter, much more detailed information on ?employment, consumption, profits, financial markets, interest rate decisions by the Federal Reserve Board, federal economic stimulus proposals and other economic variables.?
An abundance of information about Wisconsin?s debt was unavailable. Mr. Huebsch, who didn?t know a thing about the debt except that it probably existed, preemptively struck out a large section of his legislative tools that could very well be appropriate for the problem at hand. By dismissing such a large set of options before proper discussion can even begin, Mr. Huebsch and others like him bolted shut the doors to their minds and rendered themselves incapable of working with anyone who disagrees with them.
This is not to imply that taxes alone will solve the current financial anxiety, or that government spending must not be cut. There is no single surefire strategy to repairing the budget. Legislators must attend to the problem with minds open to compromise and willing to accept dents in their ideology. Otherwise, a late or sloppy budget results.
This sordid scenario went down last year, when the state budget went a whopping 117 days without passing because legislators stood touching noses for weeks at a time and never saw eye to eye. Even that late compromise was hardly a compromise at all. The budget spent more than it could pay for, undoubtedly contributing to part of the financial stormy weather we currently face.
Now, the same Legislature that came within four days of creating the tardiest budget ever, the same Legislature that created a budget that taxed too little for what it spent, the same Legislature that tosses promises of tax rebates to its constituents like candy to diabetic children, will turn to face the upcoming debt.
Just yesterday, the Senate Democrats unveiled their economic stimulus plan and already Republicans have unleashed a flurry of complaints directed toward its taxes and its expenses. I am somewhat pessimistic that an effective plan will be passed anytime soon. The weatherman predicts a cold day in hell when legislators learn to get along.
Jack Garigliano ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in English.