Wisconsin’s Small Government Experiment
There’s no use lamenting Wisconsin’s past as a progressive state. Heck, there’s no use in mourning the end of the whole country’s 70-year run in that general direction. For now, that’s all in the past, and progressives are as much to blame for the current state of things as conservatives.
Somewhere in the later 20th century, Democrats gave unions too much power over elections. Republicans gave too much to faith-based organizations and Big Business. Ultimately, both bellied up to the corporate trough, dropping the occasional crumb to the American People. And voters sat by, throwing bumper stickers on their cars and staying home on election day. Many of the best leaders in this country wouldn’t touch public service with a ten-foot pole now (though arguably this has always been the case). And here in Wisconsin, at least, it’s almost as easy to qualify for elected office as for parenthood. Or at least to be perceived as qualified.
That’s not to say we don’t have our shining lights. I won’t name names because there’s no way to not miss someone. I also won’t provide the longer list of people who serve in office to serve themselves (though Lee Holloway does come immediately to mind). But what I will say is this: Collectively, we’ve gone off the rails. The power pendulum in Wisconsin has swung mightily back and forth – in the last four decades, especially – and the result is a confusing mess of conflicting policy that is ultimately unproductive for everyone. Two years of guaranteed Republican control may or may not set us on a definitive course to the fabled land of Small Government and a compassionate noblesse oblige. Time will tell, but we can make some educated guesses about our near-term future from Scott Walker’s first big middle finger to the rest of the nation.
During the train debate, most detractors referred vaguely to the “inevitable cost overruns”, the fact that they would never ride the train themselves and a general dislike of being told what to do. They didn’t want to be responsible for the potential 13-cents per taxpayer, per year cost of operating 80 miles of rail. They did, and do, want to uphold Walker’s campaign promise to one of his biggest funding sources – construction companies – by increasing funding for roads and bridges. And make no mistake, we DO need to maintain our roads and fix our bridges, but rail funding was never a trade for bridge money.
Walker’s plan to grow the economy also includes a 1% corporate income tax decrease for small business owners. I have spent hours laughing with my fellow proprietors (including conservatives) about this. We wonder how the new desktop printer we’ll buy with our savings will translate into jobs for Wisconsin. We’d rather have the revenue flowing into state coffers and used to help us create a competitive health insurance exchange. I mentioned this to State Senator Alberta Darling [R] recently, figuring that since she’s the co-chair of the joint finance committee she might be in a position to consider it. She suggested I check out Community Shares, which is trying to start up an insurance exchange for sole proprietors and small businesses. “I wish them luck, I really do,” she said. Me too, I guess…
Like most commentators, I could go on and on. But what I’m really getting at is that we’ve got a mess on our hands. As my alderman recently said to me, “If it costs $5 to run a city, no matter how much you cut, it’s still going to cost $5. You can make it cost $4.95 for a while, maybe, but not without fundamentally shifting your structure and the scope of your responsibilities.”
It’s a point well taken. If we continue to favor only revenue cuts for growing the economy, government’s ability to function will decline along with it. Which will be great for Big Business and the wealthiest 2% of Americans, but lousy for the rest of us. Don’t believe the hype: trickle-down economics is a joke. Service jobs are not middle class, family-supporting positions, and they will not be able to fuel the consumption-based engine that drives this country’s economy. Besides, the secret to amassing wealth is to not spend your money. The rich know this, and a willingness to rely on them to provide for the rest of us is the height of ignorance.
Interestingly, nobody living today who espouses the virtues of very small government has ever experienced it, though many of those same people have prospered despite those pesky taxes and road construction detours. If this new breed of conservatism does will out, however, we’ll all get to see it firsthand. So grab your money and your guns, and get ready for the new frontier.