Madison has often been called the "Berkeley of the Midwest." But these days, our state capital has more in common with Sacramento.
California politicians in Sacramento have run up a $21.3 billion hole in their state's budget, while their counterparts in Madison have managed to dig a $6.6 billion grave for Wisconsin.
It's tempting to think that when it comes to profligate spending, Wisconsin can't hold a candle to California. Think again.
When you calculate California's massive debt in per capita terms, it amounts to $511 for each of the state's nearly 37 million residents. When you divide Wisconsin's $6.6 billion deficit among our state's 5.6 million residents, it comes to $1,100 for each man, woman and child. You pick the Fiscal Irresponsibility Sweepstakes winner.
In an effort to plug this gaping fiscal wound, California put six referendum questions before voters last week, laying out various schemes for higher taxes. The voters, delivering the kind of thumping their ex-movie-star governor never took on the big screen, said "no."
By a resounding 2-1 majority, California voters turned down every one of the spending proposals. A measure to deny pay increases to state politicians while the state runs a deficit passed by an even greater margin. What? No pay hike for those responsible for the irresponsible spending? What is this country coming to?
At some point, of course, President Bailout Obama will declare California "too big to fail." And then federal dollars will start flowing, courtesy of taxpayers in places like Wisconsin.
Yup. In addition to paying for fiscal mismanagement in Madison, Wisconsin taxpayers will help pay for fiscally irresponsible decisions made in Sacramento. As Roundy Coughlin used to say, "What could be fairer?"
You don't need newspapers to know that bad economic news is breaking out all over.
California is going broke. President Obama wants to add about $1,500 to the cost of a new car through higher MPG standards. The housing market remains on life support. The nation is hemorrhaging 600,000 jobs a month. Retail sales are down. New housing starts are at the lowest point since Buddy Holly died. And the Obama administration is shutting down thousands of Chrysler and GM dealers around the country.
President Obama, decrying Republican irresponsibility, has proposed more than $9 trillion in deficit spending in the next 10 years, more than the combined debt of all presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush.
And that's after only four months in office.
But God bless those wacky California voters who finally said "enough is enough." It's a hopeful sign that even the most liberal American voters are getting fed up with snake oil politicians selling the notion that we can spend our way out of the Great Recession and borrow our way out of debt.
And I suspect we haven't heard the last from Chrysler and GM dealers who are wondering who or what gave President Obama the power to force the closure of thousands of dealerships across the country. Can you spell l-a-w-s-u-i-t?
In the early days of economic meltdown, the housing crisis was at ground zero. It still is.
According to the Wisconsin Builders Association, new one- and two-family housing starts statewide have fallen from 22,016 in 2005 to 8,496 in 2008, a decline of 61.4%. Think recession-proof Dane County is immune? Housing starts here totaled 2,489 in 2005. Last year, that number was 704, a decline of 71.7%.
And the number of construction permits for the first three months of 2009 indicates another likely tumble from the bleak 2008 level.
Against this backdrop, Gov. Doyle in February proposed increasing state spending by 7.7% (9% when borrowing is included) and adding 1,011 new state employees. In early May, the governor's tune changed to include state employee furloughs, rescinding pay increases, demanding concessions from the unions (who still dream of higher taxes) and possible layoffs of state employees.
If newspapers were still in the business of asking tough questions of elected officials, someone by now would have asked the governor a simple question: "What did we learn in May that we didn't already know in February?"
Or "Why was no action taken to correct the fiscal trajectory of the state before we got in this deep?"
With this type of reckless spending coming from Madison, Sacramento and Washington, it's no wonder voters are eager to mount a counterrevolution at the ballot box. The time has come to put the brakes on unbridled government spending and administer a little frontier justice on those responsible.
Rick Berg (email@example.com) is a Madison-based writer and commentator.