August 9, 2003
Be careful what you ask for?
Watching Mary Panzer on Wisconsin Public Television Friday night reminded me of the enthusiasm of my dog going after a bone. She is determined, tough, and more than anything, excited that she and WMC are about to WIN! The bone is just a few inches away and she anticipates the meat flavor.
Panzer, the long-time back-bencher, has been thrust in to leadership in the state Senate and may be the best symbol of the modern Republican ethic. Unconcerned about long-term consequences on the lives of our people, she is demanding that all Republican Senators vote to override the property tax freeze and she is making small talk with vulnerable Democrats. She seemed to threaten any Democrat who votes in favor of local control of property taxes.
Why can Panzer threaten dire consequences to state Senators Dave Hanson of Green Bay, Bob Wirch of Kenosha, and others? Simple. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) has dropped any pretense of bi-partisanship. They are masterminding the dismantling of state government and have joined Panzer in threatening Democrats. Panzer can threaten to spend hundreds of thousands of WMC dollars to defeat Democrats next year who do not heel on the veto override. And WMC is spending thousands on radio spots to scare Democrats.
In the meantime, WMC, working with the Republicans, is hosting phony demonstrations of a hundred or two that get more attention from the media than the thousands who marched for peace prior to the invasion of Iraq.
And, like Panzer, WMC can taste the bone. Here is Jim Pugh, head of governmental affairs for WMC: "Business people considering transferring here see a much higher total tax burden than in their states."
Absolute nonsense. Of course Pugh offers no examples of those considering a move because there are none, but Pugh would have us believe that some anonymous corporate executive is sitting somewhere thinking, "I'll spend millions to move to Wisconsin if only they will freeze property taxes." Pugh does not explain that many businesses move here for the quality of life--you know, we care about the disadvantaged, we have free concerts, great public schools, a university system that produces research that helps the nation as well as business.
What will Pugh say if he and Panzer win and businesses leave Wisconsin for Minnesota so their children can attend better schools? Ken Cole, head of the Association of School Boards, not exactly a liberal bastion, says 4,500 teachers could be laid off next year if the veto is overridden. But, says, Senator Alberta Darling from the wealthiest community in Wisconsin, "I can't imagine that they're going to have to lay off all those teachers. What is real and what is a scare tactic?" She made these comments to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Imagine a state senator who will vote without knowing if these are "scare tactics" or not? Unbelievable. The experts say $81 million will be lost to K-12 schools. What's that, pocket change for Darling? Ah, but Alberta's constituents can afford to send their kids to private schools, so who cares?
And Panzer joins in the knownothingism of Darling, "I don't think it has to be people in the classroom. We have administrators...every budget has different things in it." Whoa Nelly! If Panzer doesn't trust the school boards, the local mayors, the county executives, the village presidents, who does she trust? WMC is the obvious answer.
While I have bemoaned the fact that Democrats have found themselves as the champions of the worst tax in our state because they won't take on the monied interests with a fair tax package, lets take a moment to imagine the worst thing that could happen to Republicans. The answer? Panzer gets her bone; property taxes are frozen; police and fire protection declines; thousands of teachers are terminated; special education goes to the back of the Republican bus.
Will the Republicans be rewarded for the ensuing chaos as the "saviors" of homeowners, or will all taxpayers finally wake up to figure out that tax loopholes for corporations, sales tax exemptions, and give-aways to corporations are the real problem?
One thing is for sure. Everyone will know why class sizes go up, tuition goes through the roof, why our challenged and our gifted and talented kids will be ignored, why...well, you can fill in the blanks.
Panzer should be prepared for the bone. The taste will be great at the Madison Club celebration but it won't last long.
I also think it is time for WEAC to give us more than a smile and an assurance that "every kid deserves a great school." We all agree with that statement, but now what?
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