March 30, 2011
Getting real about taxes
By Bob Menamin
Governor Walker has manufactured a crisis by giving the fat cats more tax breaks. His solutions to this problem that he created on purpose are forced cuts to the poor, working poor and the middle class in addition to getting rid of collective bargaining.
We do need to give some attention to our structural deficit*, which has been neglected by Republicans and Democrats with a result that it has grown to $3.6 billion dollars over the last 16 years. Over a number of decades, both parties have created loopholes and tax exemptions to give special favors to their friends, resulting in a smaller number of regular wage earners paying higher sales taxes, property taxes and income taxes. These loopholes are exempting many high income earners, not-for-profit corporations and for-profit corporations at the expense of the working poor and the middle class.
When I have engaged both Republicans and Democrats about this problem and suggested a need for remedies that make taxes fair by getting rid of exemptions, they tell me we can't raise taxes. In Dane County, where I live, both candidates in the general election for county executive refuse to have a public discussion about the abuse of tax exemptions. The candidates say privately, "We can't raise taxes and anyway that is a state problem." They frame the issue this way when the real focus should be on how everyone pays his or her fair share of all taxes. When asked to publicly lobby the Legislature from their bully pulpit elected officials flatly refuse. Canned candidate forums refuse to ask them questions about the issue, because they accept the false framing of "raising taxes."
And that's just one county.
We need to do something to raise revenue in place of the inhumane and grotesque cuts made by the Walker gang. I suggest we:
1.) Repeal all sales tax exemptions, except those for food, for one year. This would raise $3.9 billion, allowing us to retire our structural debt.
2.) Add a surtax for higher income earners and count capital gains income as regular income.
I ask anyone to respond to this proposal and give rational reasons why we should not treat all taxpayers equally. Will Rogers is said to have said in the 1930s, "People want just taxes more than they want lower taxes."
For more ideas about how to increase fairness and raise revenue go to fairtaxes.com.
*Author's note: this article originally and mistakenly used the term structural "debt."
March 22, 2011
The socialists among us
By Steve Carlson
A few weeks ago, as I was heading into Spooner, Wisconsin for the weekly rally against Walker's so-called budget repair bill, I stopped at a local convenience store to buy some gas. I stop in there frequently to pick up newspapers and the occasional six pack of New Glarus "Moon Man" beer, and over the years have become chatty with the big, burly northern Wisconsin redneck who runs the place. For the sake of anonymity I'll call him Bill.
Gas prices were starting to rise at the time and, as I'm prone to do, I started griping about it. Bill joined in and quickly we were having a good time lambasting the corporations that profit excessively at our expense when, predictably, Bill said that we needed to start drilling for oil again in this country.
Now, I could have taken the typical "leftie" position on this issue and started lecturing Bill about the perils of global warming and the need to develop clean, green, renewable sources of energy, but I didn't. Experience has taught me that I wouldn't get anywhere with him. In fact, the conversation might have come to a screeching halt.
Instead I paused for a moment and then cautiously said, "Yeah, maybe so, but maybe this time the American people should own the oil instead of Exxon/Mobile." Bill didn't blink an eye. "Ya think so?" he said with a decidedly assenting tone. "Yeah," I said, "I think so." I left the store with the two of us in full agreement.
If I had told Bill then and there that he was leaning in a socialist direction he might have chased me out of his store with a stick. I don't know. I've never asked him if he aligns with any political party, or if he pays attention to politics at all, but I'm pretty confident that I could suggest to him that instead of drilling for oil we should start developing home grown biofuels so that we could put American family farmers back to work instead of enriching the Koch brothers, and that he would agree in a minute. And he's not an anomaly.
Last summer I was part of a union organizing drive in a small northeastern Wisconsin town where I stayed in a motel for a few days a week over a period of a couple months. I got to know the motel maintenance man while we both smoked outside the building every morning. He was clearly a Tea Party sympathizer and loved to go on endlessly about how Obama was ruining the country. I'd listen to him and try to change the subject when I could, but one morning he started in specifically on the evils of "Obamacare."
When he paused for breath I took the opportunity to tell him that I didn't like the newly passed health care law either, and that I thought we should have expanded Medicare to cover everyone. I explained that we could spread the risk around and use our (get this) "collective bargaining power" to drive down health care prices, as well as kick the greedy health insurance companies out of the equation altogether.
By then I had his full attention so I lunged forward, talking about how other countries around the world were doing just that. Using Norway as an example, I explained that oil in the North Sea belonged to the Norwegian people and that they used the money to fund everything from health care, to education, to a strong social safety net.
His response to my tirade? "Why can't we do that here?" he asked. "Because Wall Street owns Congress," was my short reply. He shook his head, went about his day, and never brought up "Obamacare" again.
I don't think these guys are unusual. In fact, I think a large majority of working class people across the state feel the same way. It's all a matter of how it's explained.
Samuel Wurzlbacher, aka Joe The Plumber, was in Madison recently telling a crowd of Tea Partiers about how card carrying socialists had come into town to hijack the rallies against Walker's union busting bill. I wonder if Joe has any idea of just how many socialists live right here in Wisconsin? I also wonder how many might have been in the crowd he addressed.
March 20, 2011
One pole or another
By Bill Kraus
A recent poll by UW prof Ken Goldstein indicates polarization has reached new heights (or lows) and that the admonition in the rules of government--a stalemate must be broken before there is time to dig a trench--has been cast aside.
The Republicans are dug in on their issues and the Democrats on theirs. The only thing they agree on is that Senator Dale Schultz, who is wandering around in the no man’s land between them, is wrong because he got out of his trench in search of compromise.
The road to total polarization was started when the brilliant and bellicose Chuck Chvala (Democratic Senate Majority Leader) and Scott Jensen (Republican Speaker of the Assembly) convinced their caucuses not only that the ideas coming from the other side of the aisle were lousy but so were the people on the other side of the aisle who were espousing them.
The road from being adversaries to being enemies on a personal basis started then and has exacerbated ever since.
The caucuses now seem to be dominated by true believers whose numbers have grown in no small measure due to the bi-party urge to gerrymander the state into as many safe legislative seats as possible. No one who participated in these redistricting conspiracies seems to have heard of the law of unintended consequences, or known that the leaders’ greatest nightmare is the super-partisan in a safe seat who can follow his or her singular view of the truth without regard to whether the government works or not.
Speaker of the House John Boehner’s life is more visibly made more difficult by this law. The Fitzgerald brothers less so, but they would do well to watch out. One of the other rules of government is that your enemies are out in front of you and a lot easier to ward off and contend with than your “friends” who are behind you delivering rabbit punches.
In a polarized world where adversaries do not talk or relate to one another, compromise is not only impossible it’s demeaned. This means that the route to action is pretty much totalitarian. Not unlike the third-party afflicted governments in other places, particularly the Middle East.
One party gets into power with the help of the shrunken but vital middle and rides roughshod over the other party.
As soon as they go too far, as they inevitably do (Lord Acton may be dead but his aphorism that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is not), the voters in the middle will rue their decision to go in one direction and switch to the other side. According to Professor Goldstein they have already done that in Wisconsin. If an election were held today the signs are that the tsunami that the Republicans rode to dominance in 2010 would wash them out to sea in 2011.
This is no way to run a country or a state.
The ins get their way until they become the outs who then get their way until they, too, are no longer in.
In a split government this doesn’t happen, which is why I have always covertly been less sanguine about one party domination than, as a perceived partisan, I was expected to be.
For a split government to succeed, however, no man’s land has to be a less lethal place. The warring troops, or enough of them to form a working majority, have to be able to get out of their trenches and put together what most of the people (with the exception of the true believer/yellow dogs on the margins and in the minority) want: a government that works.
In the current atmosphere, this is very dangerous to espouse. We have only to look at the venom being loosed on Democratic Senator Tim Cullen by his fellow Democrats and what Senator Dale Schultz suffered at the hands of his presumed brothers in arms.
I know it’s absurd to suggest it, but I will anyway. One of the not insignificant causes of paralyzing polarization is the rush to create more safe districts (to save campaign money) which tend to be occupied by radical non-compromisers of the right and left.
This is not good for the 82 percent of the people who are functionally disenfranchised, nor for the leaders who have to deal with the righteous recalcitrants in their own caucuses as they assemble the votes they need on difficult questions.
Could we start with a bipartisan effort to de-gerrymander? We could of course. Will we?
March 13, 2011
By Bill Kraus
Now that the 1959 battle over public employee unions is mostly over, the trenches are being dug for the next, bigger fight which will include a rerun of the merger wars of 1941.
What we are in for is a war with more fronts than the island hopping of the early 1940s--a little policy and lots of money at stake.
The big battles will revolve around the five major parts of the state budget which eat up 80 percent of the money. At the state level this budget is about dispensing money to others; it’s benefit driven. One step down where the benefits are disbursed the spending is labor driven.
The big five are (1) aid to K-12 education, most for teachers’ salaries (2) shared revenues to local governments, a lot of which goes for fire fighters and police officers (3) University of Wisconsin, money for professors, tuition aids, and lots of other good stuff (4) prisons, and (5) medicaid, where the number of supplicants has gone from 200,000 to 800,000, the frugality destroyer.
The increases in costs all of the big five are facing are driven by something over which the state has little or no control: the cost of health care.
The failure to get a handle on health care costs can be attributed to factors including a long history of not facing up to this money eating monster. Universal health care was to be a part of the Roosevelt New Deal, but war came along and postponed this idea for almost a decade. When President Truman put health care back on the agenda, he ran into opposition from the American Medical Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chambers’ leaders didn’t get the message when General Motors told them that they were spending more on Blue Cross than for steel. Ideological deafness.
This didn’t matter much in the post-war world where ours was the only economic game in town. But in today’s flat world the fact that the U.S. hasn’t put a lid on things ranging from malpractice awards to technological marvels which extend life and improve treatment and diagnoses at a very high cost has damaged our ability to compete against first-world countries where health care costs less and produces better results.
Putting health care costs aside, which is about all the state government can do about them despite the indirect devastation they are wreaking on state government costs, the next few months are going to be about cutting spending, setting priorities, and getting deficit free by June 30.
Some of these cuts will be offset by increased spending in areas where the crucial infrastructure is in disrepair and where investments and tax cuts which are thought to be needed to rebuild the Wisconsin economy. The object of these initiatives is more jobs and increased tax revenues. Unfortunately neither are likely to be realized in the short term when the cost cutting and program eliminating pain is being dispensed.
It is not going to be pretty. Due to the concessions by public unions recently, their members are going to be important contributors to reducing costs in their several departments. Once those savings are banked, the balance of the revenue shortfall is going to have to be made up with cuts in some programs and elimination of others.
I will be surprised if the legislators’ choices are all lockstep, party line either. Geography will be in play as well as special interests and individual legislators' hidden agendas.
There may even be some bipartisanship on display in this unhappily polarized era where compromise is demonized instead of idolized.
March 9, 2011
Stealing from the sick
By Ellen Bravo
The theft of paid sick days in our state is underway.
Last Thursday, the state Senate has passed Senate Bill 23, introduced by Senator Leah Vukmir, which would nullify the Milwaukee paid sick days ordinance and make it impossible for any other local electorate in Wisconsin to pass such a measure through direct legislation. The vote came just one day after the bill was passed out of the Senate Committee on Labor, Public Safety and Urban Affairs. The three Republican senators ignored the powerful testimony of 15 representatives of 9to5, Wisconsin Task Force on Domestic Violence, Disabilities Rights, Wisconsin Citizen Action, ACLU, SEIU, and teachers and affected workers on the need and benefits of paid sick days.
The bill uses the fraudulent umbrella of Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) to say only the state can legislate in this area, even though sponsors know the Wisconsin FMLA doesn't cover all workers, doesn't allow for coverage of routine illness and preventative care appointments and, through recent proposed legislation, will take away the right of workers caring for a family member to choose to substitute any paid leave they’ve earned for unpaid time under the act.
Assembly Bill 41, a companion bill to SB 23 in the Assembly, has a hearing Thursday, March 10, before the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, in room 300 NE of the Capitol. Contact your Assembly member immediately - 1-800-362-9472 - to let him or her know this bill would harm families and dishonor Wisconsin voters.
The Republicans seem to like local control when it is in their interest but not when it helps working people.
The bill could move quickly, as did SB 23. We must let Wisconsin constituents know about this as soon as possible. Please ask all those in your network to call their Assembly representative and voice their opposition to this assault on our rights to decide what’s best to maintain family economic stability while caring for ourselves and our families.
For more information, go to 9to5’s Facebook page or call 9to5 at 414-274-0925.
March 6, 2011
Three lessons learned
By Bill Kraus
1. There is no pleasing the macho true believers. It is their way or no way. Overheard at a Lincoln Day dinner in Wisconsin Rapids: “If Walker gives in on anything, I’ll never vote for him again.”
The Floating Fourteen are undoubtedly getting the same message from their radical adherents as well.
If we take talk, compromise, and respect out of governance, what’s left? Totalitarianism? A caller to a radio call-in show not too long ago accused me of compromising and went on to denigrate that very idea. I asked him how his marriage was going. He hung up.
Hanging up ranks right up there with walking out of the room.
2. The internet is a gold mine of information, but it ain’t journalism. The internet is a miracle, but when used as an information source (excepting, of course, the websites by reputable newspapers which are electronic versions of what they are printing) it is user activated and single sourced. The people who rely on internet sources for their information are a.) likely to go to sites produced by the like-minded and, b.) don’t know or care that what the like-minded are saying has not had to suffer the indignity of validation by the tiresome process of listening to more than one source. The danger of single sourcing is that it susceptible to bias and to dispensing opinions disguised as facts.
A recent example of the internet’s shortcoming and the desperate need for journalists and the rules of journalism concerned a controversial proposal by Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. The plaintiff’s case arguing that what Fitzgerald proposed was unconstitutional got widespread distribution on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet to the great pleasure of those on one side of the argument. The next day a newspaper asked if there might be two sides to this argument. There were. The newspaper published both opinions.
At about the same time a story was being merchandised on the internet about the damage being done to the revered state Capitol by its protesting temporary inhabitants. That story too fell from its partisan pleasing pedestal when a newspaper challenged its accuracy and reported that it was wildly overblown at best and mostly just plain wrong.
Internetism is not built to do what journalism does routinely and, one hopes, responsibly.
3. Most voters want a government that works. It follows, then, that it is in the best long-term interests of those who have been elected to govern to do just that, to govern. Flirting with inaction for any reason is dangerously distracting and could be bad for one’s electoral health.
When the Fitzgerald brothers spoke at a recent WisPolitics forum, they agreed that they had two years to live, that they were not given their amazing majorities to do nothing.
They are, of course, proposing to do something. Actually, they are proposing to do many things. None of them easy or pleasant. Where they may go astray is if the things that they are trying to do or the way they do things end in a prolonged stalemate.
They will then have not done what they proposed to do, and they will have tested the limited patience of a very significant part of the population that quickly tires of the rhetoric and wants them to get on with it, for better or worse.
March 5, 2011
The real slobs
By Joe Gruber
I have never been more embarrassed of a public official than I am right now of my Wisconsin state Senator, Glenn Grothman. On national television he called protesters in the our state Capitol “slobs.” He told the same national TV audience that the whole place stinks.
The Capitol protestors are exercising their constitutional rights and standing up for all of us. They are firefighters, teachers and people all of us admire.
I have been to Madison protesting at least 10 times in these last few weeks and am not a slob. I was in and out of the Capitol on each visit and I saw and smelled nothing unpleasant. If anything smelled it was Governor Walker’s clearing out the Capitol under the pretense of cleaning it and then not letting people back in. He even violated a court order to open the doors.
I live in Grothman’s district. I know he and his GOP colleagues will be gerrymandering the districts soon to suit their own advantage. I have asked that he gerrymander my home town and my current residence out his district so I can stop voting against him and he can stop embarrassing me.
March 1, 2011
A death of a thousand tax cuts
By Bob Menamin
The Wisconsin Legislature has had a collapse due to the dysfunctional leadership by Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, Majority Leader Scott Suder, and Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer. They sprung a surprise vote on the Assemby on February 25, without the proper procedure to move to a vote, allowing only 68 Assembly Representatives to vote before the voting was closed. The vote was held open for only 17 seconds before being closed resulting in a 51-17. Thirty-one representatives from voting. The violation of rules, procedure and decorum may result in a legal challenge, and is the culmination of the Republican leadership’s pattern of anti-democratic abuses of power.
This type of collapse of representative government is part of what led FightingBob.com editor and publisher Ed Garvey to convene an emergency session of the "People's Legislature" on Sunday. During The People's Legislature, I had the honor of speaking about the need for tax reform and overhaul of our methods of taxation. In my remarks, and in a FightingBob.com article I wrote in January I drew heavily upon the work of Gary Bahr of Belleville and maintains a website called fairtax.com.
Tax reform was avoided in candidate forums before the November 2010 elections sponsored by We The People, a collection of media groups and others. Similiar media groups would not allow questions on unfair taxes to be included in candidate forums for the Dane County Executive race.
The problem with taxes, is that lawmakers have exempted so much income tax, sales tax and property tax for their special interest contributors that there is not enough revenue for essential public services. This is accomplished by using 300 separate devices for avoiding taxes. The solution is to repeal or modify these exemptions and loopholes.
Governor Walker says his "budget repair bill" is about money and we have an emergency need to come up with $137 million savings to avoid cutting staff. This comes after he has given some $160 million tax breaks to business interests. In a 2006 article, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gave a small hint of what could be saved if exemptions were repealed for certain business entities just in sales tax alone. For legal services we would bring in $113 million, advertising $103 million, personnel services $79 million, computer services $136 million, archetectural, engineering and surveying services $69 million, management consulting and public relations $64.1 million, accounting services $59.4 million, hair salons, nail salaons and barbershops $29 million, and health clubs $3.3 million. The total for these servcies is $656.4 million, which could be done immedicately by the GOP majority if they were really in a hurry to plug the budget hole.
There would be no need for study, they could just do it. We could also throw in motor vehicles, aircraft and truck bodies, which are exempt if purchased by non-residents and taken out of the state immediately. And then for good measure we could throw in the booths at Miller Park which are exempt.
Is the answer to our government's fiscal problems solved by busting unions? Or is reforming a tax system that continues to give more and more tax exemptions?