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Dave Zweifel: Paying our share is Wisconsin's way

Dave Zweifel  —  10/22/2007 12:08 pm

Now that a state budget compromise appears to have finally brought this legislative circus to an end, it's time to ask some serious questions of Wisconsin's Republican legislators.

To whom are they beholden? The people of Wisconsin or a radical right-wing organization based in Washington, D.C., that was founded by a bunch of billionaires and now wants to tell us how we should be running our state?

Americans for Prosperity, which has as one of its goals the elimination of Social Security, has purportedly organized a Wisconsin chapter. It has signed up such firebrands as chairman of the state Republican Party Reince Priebus and local radio loudmouth Vicki McKenna, neither of whom has the slightest idea of what has made Wisconsin tick all these years.

One clue: It hasn't been by starving local education or turning children away from adequate health care or by refusing to help needy college students get their degrees.

And that, folks, is what has been at stake in the state budget battle. It wasn't about some simple-minded slogan of "no new taxes." It was about whether Wisconsin, as it has done historically, would continue to be that beacon of hope for all its citizens, including those among us who need a boost to make something of their lives.

According to the Americans for Prosperity Web site, some 28 Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature signed a "no tax increase" pledge with the organization. (Two Democrats have done so as well -- the embarrassingly naive Sheldon Wasserman of Milwaukee and Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc.) They included Republicans like Eugene Hahn, who represents a piece of Dane County, and Jim Ott, a usually enlightened Republican from Mequon.

Yet Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch insisted his caucus was willing to compromise with the Democrats. When 28 members already had announced they had closed their minds -- even to an increase in cigarette taxes to expand health care to kids -- how really could there be compromise?

Meanwhile, these self-righteous no-tax legislators were willing to push more costs off on local and school governments, where the only tax available is the onerous property tax.

It was to laugh last week when 300 or so of the Americans for Prosperity crowd showed up at the State Capitol to cheer on Priebus and McKenna and taunt state workers, saying that they don't deserve pay raises. How many of those in that crowd, including the righteous McKenna and Priebus, were willing to forgo pay raises this year?

We all need to face the fact that government, like everything else in our economy, faces increased costs. Most certainly, it's up to our elected officials to control them, but when demands for important programs for kids and the elderly become so great that there may be a need to raise taxes, we should be able to expect all our legislators to look at them with an open mind. Signing juvenile no-tax-increase pledges with an out-of-state fringe group causes the obscene political gridlock we've just witnessed.

Gov. Jim Doyle's tax proposals were not only fair, but they were designed to affect as few citizens as possible. They were aimed to raise money to help the strapped UW System, provide a few more dollars for local education, help take care of young people who are without health care coverage and assist our low-income elderly population.

That's what Wisconsin has been about throughout its proud history. We do pay relatively more taxes, but we also stand head and shoulders above other states with an excellent education system, good roads, outstanding parks and recreational areas, and in reaching out to those who need help.

This budget compromise does meet at least some of those needs. Wisconsin, after all, was built by people who worked hard and shared -- people who put to shame those with self-serving slogans and the pious legislators who join them.

Dave Zweifel is editor of The Capital Times.

Dave Zweifel  —  10/22/2007 12:08 pm

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