Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Shark and Shepherd in the MSM

My latest Milwaukee Journal Sentinel column will be in tomorrow's paper.


Seth Zlotocha said...

You start off on target, Rick, discussing how this amendment would impact public revenue. Then you mysteriously switch gears and defend the amendment in terms of taxes, referring to amendment opponents as opponents of "tax-limitation."

Even amendment supporter and TABOR author Frank Lasee recognizes that taxes could actually increase under the revenue amendment. The issue at hand is revenue.

Why not look at the ranking of Wisconsin in terms of revenue? Is it becuase Wisconsin has only ranked in the top-10 four times since 1982-83 in that category? And if we consider total revenue (and federal dollars could very well be negatively impacted by the amendment), Wisconsin hasn't cracked the top 15 in the nation since 1985-86.

And then there's this line: "They want your money. Badly. And if you don't want to give it to them, well, then, you know who you are. You are a monster." Please, Rick. Did you pull your groin making that leap?

"What he suggests is that the state's costs of doing business have increased at a pace above the rate of inflation because its labor costs - what it pays to state employees in wages and benefits - have done so."

Wages are not the issue. They have hardly increased too rapidly for public employees. Health care is a concern, but that is true in the public and private sector. This amendment is not the way to handle health care costs.

Plus, there are other goods and services that have increased dramatically over time, too. Fuel is a big one. You can't run any public works department without a lot of it, not to mention rising heating costs for government buildings.

"The Taxpayer Protection Amendment is an attempt to broaden the discussion over whether the government ought to enjoy real growth beyond legislators and lobbyists with a vested interest."

Since when is a constitutional amendment about broadening a public discussion? Isn't it really about ending one?

Rick Esenberg said...


The revenue rankings for Wisconsin are all over the place depending on what you do and do not count. (Including federal money, for example, is misleading since we do not have a history of congressional representatives who deliver th bacon and very little military presence.) In the long run, the TPA becomes a limit on spending and Wisconsin spends significantly more than the average state. You can tie yourslef in knots trying to find a set of numbers that obscures that, but it's just true.

I focus on taxes because that is how we raise the large amounts of money we spent and because the fact that we have high taxes and low fees is not the equivalent of a low tax/high fee state. Many fees can be avoided by using less government. Taxes are mandatory.

Over twenty years, fuel has not risen at a pace greater than inflation. What has increased are labor costs. While health costs have increased disproportionately to inflation, taxpayers have to pay for health care as well and increases in health care costs are included in the CPI.

As for the "monster" reference, you guys jumped all over the Frankenstein metaphor. Turn about is fair play. And the idea that the left paints people who aren't so keen on spending other people's money as "mean" and "lacking compassion" isn't something that I made up.

Finally, it doesn't foreclose discussion; it mandates it. Right now most of the "discussion" takes place under the radar. (Don't you guys - or some of you - keep saying we have a "Lobbyist's Legisalture?") If you have to go to the voters to make government bigger, there must be discussion.

Seth Zlotocha said...

If the problem is taxes, why doesn't the amendment restrict taxes alone? The simple answer is, of course, that would lead to increases in other revenue areas like fees, assessments, etc.

But that's exactly the point. It's more appropriate to look at revenue as a whole because how Wisconsin ranks in that category is more indicative of the total public finance burden on Wisconsin citizens as a whole. If tax rankings for the state are significantly higher than revenue rankings, it suggests WI has a lower ranking than other states in areas like fees, assessments, etc.

In terms of federal dollars, there would likely be an impact under the amendment. The biggest generator of federal dollars for WI by far is the Medicaid program, which works on a matching basis. If fewer WI dollars go into the program, which is likely, fewer federal dollars will be generated for it. This is also true for the BadgerCare and SeniorCare programs, among others.

Fuel prices haven't risen beyond inflation? Less than five years ago the price of a gallon of gas was less than half of what it is now. Plus, heating costs are estimated to increase between last year and this year by 40% to 50%, and that's to go along with similar jumps from last year.

As for the special interest powers you warn against, you can't ignore that the biggest spending special interest in the state is at the forefront of pushing for this amendment. Do you think WMC is forking over thousands of dollars for advocacy ads out of the goodness of its heart?

There is good reason this amendment is facing bipartisan opposition. That's not something that happens too often in our sharply divided political culture.