Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Happy Days Are Here Again

Gov. Walker’s State-of-the-State speech will be singing a very positive song.

By - Jan 20th, 2014 11:00 am

It’s rare for governors’ State of the State speeches to have theme songs. But Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s fourth annual update Wednesday will stop just short of asking legislators, Supreme Court justices and other state officials to sing along.

Happy days are here again

President Franklin Roosevelt

President Franklin Roosevelt

Copyrighted in 1929, the song has been featured in dozens of movies and emerged as an unofficial anthem for – ironically – Democratic candidates since campaign advisers to President Franklin D. Roosevelt played it at the party’s 1932 national convention.

The skies above are clear again

Why will Walker enter the Assembly chamber shortly after 7 p.m. Wednesday whistling that tune? Because, nine months before Nov. 4, when he hopes to win a second term as governor, Walker will be able to propose a new round of income and property tax cuts. And, Republicans who control the Legislature could quickly adopt the governor’s recommendations and go home and brag to voters.

Let us sing a song of cheer again

Last week, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported that the general-fund tax surplus will be $912 million higher by mid-2015. Between now and March, Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature will have to decide whether to use all that $912 million, or most of it, in the next round of tax cuts and exactly how much to return to taxpayers.

If you’re wondering how much $912 million is, here’s a comparison: Raising the 5 percent state sales tax to 6 percent would bring in an additional $880 million each year. It’s a lot.

Happy days are here again

The upbeat tone of Walker’s 2014 speech will be the opposite of his first State of State speech on Feb. 1, 2011: “We have an economic and fiscal crisis in this state that demands our immediate attention. The solutions we offer must be designed to address both job creation and our budget problems….We will show that we will make the tough decisions now to lay the foundation for future economic growth.”

Wednesday, the governor will say the “tough” choices of the last three years cleared the way for the election-year budget surplus.

Altogether shout it now

When Walker outlines his new tax cuts Wednesday, Republican leaders like Speaker Robin Vos will lead the cheering. “Republicans believe the money should be spent by families back home,” Vos said last week.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is also likely to applaud, since he recently said in a WisconsinEye interview that Walker’s trial-balloon goal of abolishing the $7.49-billion personal income tax was “not realistic.” The property tax is much more unpopular than the income tax, Fitzgerald added.

There’s no one who can doubt it now

Budget purists – like Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance – suggest other uses of the surplus. “One good-government alternative for using new-found cash is to ‘buy back’ or ‘undo’ some of these past accounting tricks,” Berry said. “Paying for some state spending items in the current fiscal year, rather than delaying payment until the following year, would reverse poor budgetary decisions of past years.”

But Berry, bloodied by decades of budget wars, knows his idea is a non-starter — especially in an election year.

So is the suggestion of Andrea Kaminiski of the League of Women Voters: “It is smarter to use these funds is to pay down the debt the state has incurred over the years by repeatedly borrowing money to balance the budget…. Tax cuts have not proven to be effective at boosting a sagging economy.”

So let us tell the world about it now

Walker will use the $912-million budget surplus to try and deflect the Democrats’ chief criticism: He will fall far, far short of his promise to create 250,000 new private-sector jobs by 2015.

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, for example, had another message for the world on the day the higher surplus was announced: “The current Republican approach has dropped Wisconsin from 11th to 37th in job creation…. The governor has indicated he wants to spend much of the projected surplus on tax breaks. If this is anything like the Republicans’ past tax plans, it will primarily benefit the wealthy and not have an impact on most Wisconsin families.”

Happy days are here again

Are they? In Wisconsin politics, nine months is an eternity.

7 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Happy Days Are Here Again”

  1. Chris Byhre says:

    How ironic that the Dems are so concerned with paying down debt on the State level with a Republican in charge yet they have no concern at all for our 17 trillion dollar National debt that Obama has contributed to on an epic scale. On the National level any cuts proposed by Conservatives are met with howling about a lack of compassion and understanding for the plight of the underclass. I would love to see Walker use the money to pay down some of our debt since Republicans tend to be the only ones who are willing to make these type decisions while the Dems play Santa Claus with our money. Sadly, election year politics will probably curtail this idea. Speaking of election year politics, will Urban Milwaukee even bother to look into the illegal use of government resources on behalf of the Burke campaign by Middleton School Board President Ellen Lindgren? This is the same type of behavior that the Walker campaign was accused of and is breathlessly reported on by this site yet nothing on Lindgren?

  2. Dems wouldn’t necessarily go after the debt except they know anything else that they might suggest would never be allowed to happen. Personally I would prefer putting more money back into public education and try to get back to at least even with where state contributions were before Governor Walker cut those funds. And although I would love to reduce my property taxes, just like the last round we just experienced, it didn’t actually show up on my tax bill so that I would notice…same thing here.

    But it equally amazes me that after worrying about the debt that the Santa Clauses of the democratic elected officials are heaping upon our children and our children’s children…that when there ‘might be’ (these are only projections), the republican electeds don’t want to reverse the borrowing in the current budget.

    And I assume that you have emailed your proof of gubernatorial shenanigans to Bruce and Steven instead of changing the subject with them here. Right?

  3. Tim says:

    I’m confused, is debt ok when republicans are in power but bad when democrats are? That seems to be the song I hear from republicans, it seems the couple above are in agreement.

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, they don’t actually stand for anything… unless they’re paid to.

  4. Andy says:

    I’ve love for our state to be able to have a budget that balances with the GAAP method. To do this, we need to greatly reduce our debt service. While almost a billion dollars would only be a drop in the 90 billion dollar debt the state has, it would certainly help. At the same time, I think our economy would benefit from further tax cuts. If it were up to me, I’d probably use some of the surplus for debt and some for tax relief.

  5. Tom D says:

    Chris Byhre, actually it was President George W. Bush who opposed paying down the debt. He stated that paying down the debt (that is, running a budget surplus) really showed that taxes were too high.

    His words, before a joint session of Congress on February 27, 2001 were:

    “You see, the growing surplus exists because taxes are too high and Government is charging more than it needs. The people of America have been overcharged, and on their behalf, I am here asking for a refund.”

    Bush saw the “growing surplus” (paying down the National Debt) as a threat to taxpayers.

    Complaining about the National Debt when your party has taken a position against resolving it seems a bit of a stretch.

  6. chris byhre says:

    Ed, I stated that election year politics are probably driving Walker’s decision and that is unfortunate. To many Dems, more money for programs is the only solution. We could dump tens of millions more into public failures like MPS and it would have no effect. Also Ed, I did not email any proof to Bruce, Steven nor anyone else at Urban Milwaukee because it would be a complete waste of time. A very quick Google search would turn up information on this but it won’t be covered here because this site has no interest in any fair and balanced approach to ‘reporting’. I have been down this road with Bruce in the past only to have him regurgitate the Dem talking points so I see no reason to expect him to change his stripes now. Tim, I can not help that you are confused, maybe there is another site that can help you with that. I never said debt was a good thing and I also said that we should use this surplus to pay down our debt. The only thing we Conservatives are paid to do is work, a lot of people on your side should give it a try.

    Tom D, a lot of us Conservatives were not fans of the younger Bush precisely because he spent like a Liberal. I do not think that Bush’s opinion toward debt would be considered the official Republican position by anyone interested in an honest dialogue on this subject.

  7. David Ciepluch says:

    All Presidential administrations except Andrew Jackson added to the federal deficit. Reagan and Bush are responsible for more than half that deficit load and the mounting interest. Reagan and Bush policies crashed the economy, that has also been in a state of contraction with all the loss of production jobs in the USA exacerbated by tax policies of the 1980s when decisions were made to move toward a service knowledge based economy.

    Walker’s policies and corporate written ALEC laws instituted in Wisconsin have done nothing but rob from public workers with a pay cut of more than 10% and a further reduction in school budgets. In turn these so called tax cuts are nothing more than a transfer of wealth from the middle to lower economic class to the upper class and corporations that have not created any jobs in this country and state for decades. Large corporations have cut 3 million jobs in the USA and created 2.3 million jobs off shore in the last decade. Walker and uneducated Republican ALEC policies have further eroded away the Wisconsin economy that is on a downward trend.

    All you have to do is compare results of the Midwest and national data.

    Any further tax cut for the wealthy class is just a transfer of funds out of state and further contraction of the economy. The economy has always been managed better by Democrats for the benefit of people. Republicans are nothing more than tools of corporate wealth and power and they lack any vision nor have any real solutions to problems. Their only solution is political theology and take an ALEC model law written for corporate benefit.

    Citizens deserve so much better than this form of corrupt governing.

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