State Budget:  Four Outrages and One Success

By:  State Senator Glenn Grothman

The state budget has now been signed into law.   After the mainstream press spent over three months focusing on why the budget was delayed, you’d think they would have spent more time on what was in the budget.  Today, I’ll focus on four state budget outrages that have been largely unreported in the mainstream media or on talk radio and then a mild success.

The real estate transfer tax, the hospital tax, and the gas tax increase all failed to make it in the final budget.  Upon first hearing this, I assumed that if the Republicans kept the tax increases out of the budget, they must have kept some spending increases out as well – not so.  In order to hold down the school property tax, the state gives sales and income tax collections to the school districts.   Both the schools and the state have a July 1st to June 31st fiscal year.  The state also gives money to your municipality (City of West Bend, Town of Cedarburg, etc.) for something called the school levy credit.  This goes directly to your tax bill to reduce the school property tax.  Your municipality operates on a calendar year.  The state can therefore give a city money in July 2008 to reduce school property taxes in the school fiscal year ending June 30th ! 

In this budget, the amount the state gives to cities to hold down school taxes after the school year ends went up $230 million.  An additional $79 million was agreed to at the last minute.  This allows additional school spending in the budget but the state will not have to pay until the next budget.  The result could be a worse bond rating but no tax increases – for now.  This deal allowed the Democrats to get the spending they wanted but Republicans could also brag about keeping out the tax increases to keep down the spending. 

As for the second outrage, in past budgets money was taken from segregated accounts to pay for general obligations.  The most well known was the gas tax which should have been used for roads which was used for schools, roads and healthcare in the last two budgets.  At the last minute, the Republicans and Democrats agreed that Jim Doyle could cut $200 million in spending from every agency except schools and the University.  While it hasn’t made the papers, it’s widely assumed in Madison that the Governor will exercise this option to one more time take money from the transportation budget and spend it on other things.  Does this mean we will have a severe shortage of road building?  No.  We will borrow $470 million for road building and $30 million for passenger rail! 

The third outrage.  It’s well publicized that Milwaukee police officers who should be fired continue to be paid while their cases are on appeal.  For a while it looked like this practice might end in the budget, but no, things went the opposite way.  It will now be more difficult and costly to fire a bad policeman or fireman in all other cities as well!! 

Currently, if a police chief wants to fire a bad policeman, the determination is made by a police and fire commission and accomplished quickly.  In a provision put in the budget at the request of police and fire unions, the determination may now be made by a state arbitrator.  State arbitrators act much more slowly than police and fire commissions.   The appeals are more costly and state arbitrators are probably more likely to side with the union.  This will not only cost the taxpayers more money but will probably result in lower quality police and fire departments as always happens when it is more difficult to fire a bad employee.  A system that has worked well for over 100 years goes out the window when a bad budget deal is cut late one night and virtually nothing is said about it in the newspapers.

The final unreported outrage involves the ability to brew beer and then sell your beer in your own restaurant.  Beer wholesalers were amazingly irritated at this practice because beer sold in these brewpubs did not have to be delivered on the trucks of the beer wholesalers.  Even though neither Democrats nor Republicans felt this change belonged in the budget, some powerful legislator included a provision barring (old arrangements were grandfathered) brewers from opening new brewpubs to sell the beer which they make.  This would perhaps be one of the most restrictive laws of its kind in the country.  It’s strange that Wisconsin – which used to be known for beer – has become one of the most hostile states in the country for little microbreweries.  There is no public policy reason for this other than the political might of beer wholesalers. 

On a brighter side, the Republicans did get a mild success.  Governor Doyle’s plan to give taxpayer-funded condoms to 15 year old boys without their parents’ knowledge was removed from the budget.  Perhaps this was because of the bad publicity over the Portland, Maine, school district’s decision to give contraceptives to 12 year olds without their parents’ knowledge.

All the above are significant stories.  Sadly, none have received the publicity they should have due to a slumbering media.

Please let me know what you think about these issues.  Contact me in Madison at 1-800-662-1227 or email me at Sen.Grothman@legis.wisconsin.gov.