David Michael Miller
In theory, it’s awesome when politicians stick to their core values, when they turn campaign promises into governing reality.
In reality, pledges and promises can turn into self-imposed shackles.
For example, take Gov. Scott Walker’s “pledge” not to raise the gas tax or other transportation fees unless they’re matched by equal cuts in other areas of government. So the only way to fix a bridge is to cut funds to the UW. Robbing Peter to pay Paul — the Wisconsin fiscal plan!
The Republican hatred of any and all tax hikes has been a successful election strategy. First, refuse to raise taxes for years and years and use any surplus to pass unsustainable tax cuts. Then, when the system is completely messed up, Democrats get back in power to get the house back in order. They do the responsible thing and raise revenues to keep schools and roads functioning. Then, Republicans get back into office by campaigning against Democratic tax increases.
Still, Walker’s commitment to a no-tax pledge is extreme. Even his own legislative allies think it’s time to raise some new revenues for roads.
Because of this pledge, Walker is proposing a flat budget for road construction. This will likely delay several road projects. Here in Dane County, it means Verona Road’s rebuilding will take even longer to be completed. The interstate expansion from here to Beloit will probably be delayed too. Oh, well — at least we can take the train to Chicago. Kidding.
To keep this pledge, we’re putting off relatively cheap road maintenance now that could lead to much more expensive repairs later. It’s as if, because of a pledge not to change the oil in his SUV for 15,000 miles, Walker were to drive it until the engine breaks down rather than get a $30 oil change.
Alternatively, to get road repairs now, he’s busted out the metaphorical credit card. Walker wanted to borrow over a billion dollars for road repairs. The Legislature lowered that to a still-ridiculous $850 million. Walker runs our transportation programs the same way he ran his still-in-debt presidential campaign.
Speaking of presidential campaigns, with these tactics it doesn’t look like Walker is thinking about the gubernatorial campaign in 2018. It looks like he’s thinking about 2020. Walker wants to stick to these anti-tax pledges should he make another attempt at the presidency. I guess he doesn’t have much faith in Donald Trump winning in November.
Once again, Wisconsinites are hurting so Walker can build up his resume for Iowa.
Now, I’m not advocating for spineless politicians. In the past, I’ve knocked Wisconsin’s Democratic legislators for caving in and supporting Walker’s unsustainable borrowing for roads. Paul Ryan’s endorsement of Donald Trump was humiliating. I disagree with nearly everything Ryan stands for, but I used to believe he was a man of principle, even if those principles diverged wildly from my own.
There’s a time to stick to ideals, and there’s a time to change your original position in order to serve the greater good. That will piss some people off — just look at the anti-Hillary Clinton spiels by some of the more militant Bernie-or-bust folks. But it is also the mark of a true leader.