Legislative Republicans AWOL on State Budget Fix

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To dig us out of the historic economic crisis in Wisconsin, caused by disastrous policies of the Bush administration, our state legislators needed to come together.

The massive $6.6 billion deficit we face, much like 47 other states, requires not only sacrifice, but also common sense and fairness.

Democrats, who control both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office for the first time in a generation, worked to cut spending, protect our most important priorities and prevent across-the-board increases in income or sales taxes.
Unfortunately, legislative Republicans have chosen to use the $6.6 billion state budget deficit to score cheap political points.

Republicans refused to join the fight to protect taxpayers. They refused to offer a comprehensive budget plan, choosing to attack rather than lead.

When our leaders closed the “Las Vegas Loophole” that lets unscrupulous corporations evade Wisconsin taxes by opening a phantom post office box office in a state without corporate income tax, Republicans hopped to defend this $215 million loophole. Along the way they offered budget amendments in the Assembly which would have increased the deficit by $660 million.

Likewise, when the biennial budget hit the floor for passage, Republicans refused to offer a hand. Instead they dumped a laundry list of more than 100 amendments, which if approved, would have added nearly $1 billion more to the budget deficit.

Budgets are about choices and priorities.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature’s plan is to ask a little more from those at the absolute top of the income ladder.

For the first time in 40 years, those in the top one percent of income earners — couples making more than $300,000 — would have their state income tax rate increased. In addition, the budget plan put forward by Democrats includes $3.2 billion in spending cuts — the deepest in the state’s history.

But instead of slashing education, shared revenue and job training funds, the cuts are balanced to protect the priorities we support, including:

* $5.2 million in worker training from increased funding for the technical college system

* Providing some tax credits for job creation

* $250 million worth of infrastructure projects for rail, roads and waterways

* Requiring insurance to cover treatments for autistic children

* Protecting schools by shielding them from the full 6.1 percent agency cutbacks

* Preventing tuition increases at the University of Wisconsin and giving support to needy students.

Last, despite the economic crisis and the deepest budget hole in state history, the budget holds cutbacks to local community aids at 3.5 percent

None of this has been good enough for legislative Republicans. “If Democrats solve the budget crisis,” Republicans must think, “what chance will we have to take over again and run the show?”

Ah, I get it.

If the Republicans’ skeleton plan to close our nearly $7 billion budget deficit is to increase the deficit by over $1.5 billion, one can only begin to fathom how big the budget mess would be if they actually wrote a budget of their own.

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Scot Ross served as Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now & the Institute from 2007 to 2019.