Pope-Roberts: "Let's get at it."
While Democrats elsewhere are cannibalizing each other and betraying the voters who gave them their new majorities, state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts is holding strong to the notion that government exists for reasons other than waging wars, keeping people in prison and enriching large corporations.
"Investing in our students' education is investing in our future," the state rep from Middleton was recently quoted as saying. "We have done nothing to fix [the school funding system] in the last 15 years and we weren't in these dire straits. So let's get at it."
Pope-Roberts was commenting on a proposal unveiled last week by School Finance Network, a coalition of pro-public education groups that includes the school boards, the unions and the PTA, to stimulate the state's economy and repair its school funding system.
The current system, which the Wisconsin State Journal and others deem "broken," suffers from strict spending caps and complicated formulas that pretend all students cost the same to educate. The coalition calls for giving school districts more room under the caps and more jurisdiction over their own budgets.
Virtually every news account of the coalition's plan included an apparently obligatory quote from one or another source about this being a bad time to make investments in our future, corporate bail-out plans notwithstanding.
Gov. Jim Doyle offered offered one such quote to WISC, calling the coalition's goals "lofty" and implying that the state's $5.7 billion budget deficit makes it hard to take any new idea seriously.
That's an unfortunate way to look at it.
Yes, the economy is in the toilet. But tax hawks of both major parties believe there is never a good time to invest tax dollars in anything.
In fact, one reason for our current predicament is public officials' acute avoidance of investments in our future. The sorry results include breached levees, collapsed bridges, and the declining state of education in our public schools.
Daily Kos creator Markos Moulitsas Zúniga has a novel proposal for how the United States can raise tax collections in these trying times: Nominate every rich D.C. party insider for a Cabinet position.
Once nominated, these insiders will have to quickly pay all the taxes they have been studiously avoiding.
Hotel magnate Leona Helmsley famously informed us a generation ago that "taxes are for the little people." And the various flaps over Barack Obama's corps of tax cheaters reveals nothing we didn't already know: Rich people do not pay their taxes.
Their lobbyists game the system in their favor. Their accountants try keep up with their lobbyists. And then they still cheat, because they know the odds are greatly against getting caught.
Meanwhile Obama, left alone to defend his economic stimulus plan, deftly batted down Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats and CBS news anchor Katie Couric in a single exchange.
Couric asked Obama if he was "embarrassed" by the version of the stimulus plan that was passed by the Democratic controlled House because it contained, among other things, "$6.2 billion for home weatherization" and "$100 million for children to learn green construction."
Obama didn't take the bait.
"Well, let's think about it," he said. "We're going to weatherize homes. That immediately puts people back to work and we're going to train people who are out of work, including young people, to do the weatherization. As a consequence of weatherization, our energy bills go down and we reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
"What would be a more effective stimulus package than that? I mean, you're getting a three-fer. Not only are you immediately putting people back to work but you're also saving families on your energy bills and you're laying the groundwork for long term energy independence. That's exactly the kind of program that we should be funding."
Couric went on to other topics.
Dustin Beilke is a union organizer and freelance writer who lives in Madison.