April 26, 2010
Dying by numbers
By Bill Kraus
Senate Bill 43 died quietly last week. If an important newspaper ran a news story about its demise, it didn’t come to my attention.
The bill was known by those familiar with it as “the disclosure bill.” What it says in essence is that if you want to participate in political campaigns with advertisements for or against a candidate, you must tell everyone where you got the money to pay for these advertisements.
The state Senate passed it with a substantial bi-partisan majority. It didn’t survive a trip to the Assembly. It died in the Speaker’s office.
A lot of important political players showed up for the funeral. Some came to mourn the passing and others came to make sure it was really dead.
The mourners were:
1. The Supreme Court, which urged disclosure as the real and really constitutional reform when it issued the decision on the Citizens United case which allowed corporations and unions to do the kind of campaign advertising heretofore prohibited.
2. The GOP stalwarts who have always been leery of spending limits, public funding, and other regulatory palliatives and whose war cry was, is, and always will be Disclosure is the Answer. The death of disclosure means they lose the chance to prove their assertion that this is the ideal and only required campaign reform.
3. Candidates who come under attack from single-issue (usually) zealots with money who have become eminent to dominant participants in political campaigns recently.
4. The press, which supports political openness on its own behalf and, with the notable exception of many editorial-page editors, pretty much ignored this companion political openness effort which would have shown who the participants in campaigns really are.
5. Fairness advocates, who pointed out that candidates must reveal where they get the money they spend to promote their candidacies, but their non-candidate enemies and opponents are under no such obligation.
The “Were glad you’re dead crowd” included:
1. Free-market fanatics, including our current governor, who kind of like the high-spending, raucous, media-driven, corruption inducing system.
2. Free-speech protectors who consider anonymity a necessary part of that guarantee. They do not think free speech is really free unless it can be done without attribution, so it is free from backlash by those who are offended by it.
3. Organizations whose members’ commercial interests are protected from the consequences of their spending on their political interests.
4. Anyone who wants to put their money where their mouth isn’t. Strange bedfellows of all kinds. Right-To-Life organizations must have a lot of them judging from their vehemence about keeping the identity of their funders secret. Collateral partisan groups like Club for Growth and The Greater Wisconsin Committee also fall into this category.
5. Candidates who expect to be rewarded for letting the foregoing beneficiaries of non-disclosure maintain their anonymity in the expectation that those who they protect from this unwanted publicity will lavish praise and money on them.
April 18, 2010
The next governor's dilemmas
By Bill Kraus
When the state needs more revenues, the Democrats turn to the income tax for either a straight increase in the tax rate or a temporary surtax if the need looks like it is going to be temporary. The Republicans favor increases in the sales tax rate.
Since the onset of the taxophobia epidemic, this stalemate has been resolved by doing little or nothing about the big two revenue sources and sort of letting the property tax take the fall.
The reasoning(s) are: the sales tax is regressive, and the income tax is a deterrent to business executives and rich people who want to move here or stay here.
The flaw of letting nature take its course is that property taxes are regressive deterrents as well. The appeal to legislators and governors is that local governments assess them; they are somebody else’s problem.
Property tax dependency is really driven by the fact that it is used to fund K12 and technical college education. Education is constitutionally a state responsibility.
The most effective route to more tolerable property taxes is by expanding and increasing the sales tax and/or raising the income tax to pick up this state responsibility.
The biggest reason the state needs more revenues is we can’t cut our way to retaining our reputation as an education state without a new economy to buttress the traditional sources of jobs and money which are stagnating or faltering or both.
There are things that governments can do to build a new economy, but they are limited by resources and skills. What governments know how to do is welfare and infrastructure. Both can be used to create jobs, but both mostly require more tax revenues to do so. And, worse yet, the jobs they create are old economy jobs not new economy jobs.
There are, however, things governments can do to support and inspire and even help people in the private sector who do know how to create new economy jobs. The trouble is that this is high-risk stuff. A baseball analogy is apt. Even the best job creators bat something like .300, and that .300 is composed mostly of singles. Home runs are scarce.
Candidates are more likely to prefer other solutions. Lower taxes are said to be helpful in creating this new economy, and a friendly regulatory climate also has its adherents. Less spending without getting too specific about “on what?” gets a lot of lip service as well. The real stimulus, though, is something a revenue-short government doesn’t have much of: capital investment money.
The members of the Legislature who will have to approve whatever proposals the governor suggests to deal with these dilemmas are risk averse and occupy safe seats. This reduces appetites for anything adventuresome that might not work, disturb the status quo inordinately, or feed the anti-incumbent forces already in motion.
Dispassionate redistricting, anyone? It may be a necessary precursor to dilemma dismemberment.
April 4, 2010
Where have all the candidates gone?
By Bill Kraus
In 2010 there is an open seat in the governor’s office.
In the state Legislature there are 132 incumbent office holders, none of whom are candidates for governor.
The Legislature a generation ago was a virtual spawning ground, a stepping stone, for politicians ambitious for higher office.
If there was a complaint about the make up of those long-ago bodies, it was that the members were climbing over each other in search of shots at the few higher offices that were available for which they could run.
A fast count reveals that this generation-ago group of state legislators produced eight members of the U.S. Congress, one U.S. Senator, three governors, two Supreme Court justices, one ambassador, and uncounted mayors and county executives.
The current crop, if 2010 is an indication, will produce none of the above.
For lack of ambition if nothing else.
For one thing, the recruiting, slating, and electing of the talent pool that produced large numbers of the restlessly ambitious was taken over from the diminished-role-parties by the enhanced-role legislative leaders. The party leaders wanted the best and the brightest with the most promising prospects for higher office.
What the legislative leaders wanted were people who could win legislative elections and, once that was accomplished, would obey orders.
The jobs themselves changed as well. A generation ago most of the members of the Legislature had other lives, other jobs. The legislative pay scale was set on the assumption that the members would be part-timers. Most were. For most, it was not a career destination. It was a temporary trip into public service for some, a first or second step up the ladder of political power for the rest.
Many state legislators came from service on county boards, city councils, and school boards where they got their first appetizer-sized taste of political power and developed an appetite for a larger entree-sized serving. One interesting exception to this progression was the several members of the Milwaukee caucus whose ambition was to use the Legislature as a stepping stone to more lucrative and long-term careers on that area’s county board or city council.
When it became economically possible to live well as a full-time legislator and when self-serving redistricting made perpetual re-election almost a certainty, more and more members of this latter-day crop of legislators decided to career out in Madison.
Those are the real reasons the 132 are staying put except for the few who are opting out altogether for reasons of their own.
The popular explanation that the candidate shortage from this traditional source is that the next governor is going to face an impossible challenge is an excuse not a reason.