There are but two certainties in life — death and taxes.
This timelessly sardonic take originated in the days of Benjamin Franklin and still holds troubling truths and paradoxes. The presence of each — death and taxes — is undoubtable, but there are still many uncertainties about these two phenomena. Death and what comes after is not the most pressing issue of the moment — but taxes are a part of everyone’s life, and likely inspire more dread than the former.
There is a great certainty to taxes. Wisconsinites can be sure they’ll pay at least 5 percent in sales tax, depending on where they shop. Taxpayers across the state can be certain $34.62 billion of general purpose revenue generated by their taxes is going towards the Department of Health Services, Department of Public Instruction, the UW System and other departments. The certainty of taxes lies in the comfort of knowing where our money is going. Certainty relies on transparency — and fair, responsible government does as well.
Wisconsinites can be certain $850,000 of taxpayer money will go towards Chicago-based law firm Bartlit Beck to defend Wisconsin’s GOP-drawn legislative districts from the revived federal lawsuit — but the details of that contract remain largely uncertain to anyone outside the government. Despite state open records laws, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, will not make the legal contract public. Given that Wisconsin taxpayers have already paid more than $2 million in legal fees regarding this lawsuit, this withholding of information is met with great scrutiny and even greater backlash.
Open records laws ensure government records are accessible to the public. If documents include confidential information, officials commonly redact that information and release the rest of the document so the public can have as much information as possible. The withholding of this contract from public access not only breaks open records laws, but it is also not in line with similar litigation. The Assembly has made other contracts regarding redistricting public, and former Govs. Jim Doyle and Scott Walker — Democrat and Republican, respectively — made their contracts with legal firms public as well. No one is sure why Vos’ contract with Bartlit Beck is any different.
Misuse of word ‘terrorist’ from Assembly Speaker Vos underscores his inadequacy as leaderWisconsin politics have lost nearly every sense of decency and respect. Nowhere is this most apparent than in the intra-party Read…
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal both reported that spokespeople from Vos’ office declined to share the contract and answer questions regarding it. With that in mind, barring any substantial differences in this contract from other redistricting litigation that has been made public, there is no reason for Vos to keep this contract under wraps. Taxpayers are footing the $850,000 bill to defend gerrymandered districts that have already cost $2 billion. Wisconsinites deserve to know the details of the contract we are paying for.
Openness and transparency are of crucial importance to a healthy, functioning democracy. Public records — whether they involve taxes, litigation or one’s criminal record — are made public on the principle of accountability, so that, in a perfect world, citizens can make sure they are being treated fairly under the law. It is only fair that taxpayers are informed on how their money is being spent.
Letter to the Editor: Midterm election results another reminder of staunch Republican gerrymanderingHow does a state elect a national Democratic senator by a ten-point margin, a Democratic governor for the first time Read…
This isn’t the first time Vos, now arguably the most powerful Republican in the state, sought to stamp out transparency in Wisconsin’s government.
In early July 2015, Vos helped lead an effort to limit access to public records by adding a short addition to the state budget, which was passed by the Joint Finance Committee on a party-line vote. The proposal was briefly adopted, then dropped because of severe public resentment, and then reopened again to no avail. Though the recent breach in transparency regarding the Bartlit Beck contract is not nearly as severe as a total gut to open records laws, the premise is still the same — disregarding transparency transfers power from the people to politicians. Without public information, citizens have no idea whether they are being treated fairly under the law. And whether it’s 2015, 2019 or 2050, this principle is as timeless and certain as death and taxes.
Recent history has shown the right to public information is a constant fight between a certain type of politician and their constituents. The people have been victorious in their fights so far, but one thing is certain — the fight is never over and Wisconsinites must remain passionate about their right to know the truth.
Abigail Steinberg ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and journalism.