Who are these guys?
It's as if some insurgent group from Mississippi has invaded and taken over Wisconsin government. The Republican legislative majorities and Governor Scott Walker have values and goals more in keeping with a deeply conservative southern state than with independent, progressive Wisconsin.
The catalog of miseries is already well-known. Slashes to environmental conservation programs, cuts to education, expansion of vouchers for private schools, harassment of poor and minority voters, big tax cuts for the wealthy and tiny ones for the poor, the turning back of billions of dollars in our own federal tax dollars for Medicaid and high speed rail, the return of bail bondsmen, restrictions on legal abortions and birth control, and on and on and on.
But there was one thing I liked about what the Republicans have done: they more or less honestly balanced the budget in the last biennium. In the new budget soon to be signed by the governor, they'll make up for that by passing another big budget lie.
It comes down to the structural deficit. While our constitution demands a balanced biennial budget, legislatures and governors have long used tricks to produce a technically balanced budget that they know will quickly fall out of balance right after the two-year budget cycle expires. They've done this by recognizing revenues just before the budget ends and pushing expenses just over the line into the next cycle.
But the current budget, which ends at the end of this month, is genuinely balanced. And thanks to the general economic recovery, revenue projections are up for the next biennium. It should have been easy for the GOP to produce another truly balanced budget. But they opted to reverse the one positive thing they've done by creating yet another structural deficit. Why?
Here are the basics. This new budget the legislature has passed and the governor will approve includes a $650 million tax cut weighted heavily toward the rich. Those earning $14,000 will get about $12 while those earning $300,000 will get about $1,200. But the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has now estimated that the Republican budget will mean that the state will start its next round of budgeting looking at a $505 million projected structural deficit by the end of the next biennium. Why wouldn't the Republicans just trim the tax cut down to, say, $100 million and honestly balance the budget again?
The answer is that it isn't just about another round of tax cuts for the rich. For them it's also about strangling government. They want a scenario in which governments, both state and local, are always in budget crisis so that they can justify even further cuts to vital programs in the future. It's a cynical and sick approach that isn't so much about governing as it is about killing government and, for that matter, any kind of community cohesiveness and common effort.
And one more thing. I've been way too hard on Mississippi. That state is in a stalemate over the Medicaid expansion and it seems possible that it will be expanded there in the end. So in at least one important respect Wisconsin may soon be looking up at Mississippi.
Welcome to the extremist Republican vision of America -- always broke, needlessly hobbled to help those in need, and never able to make progress.