Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stimulating Walker and Vrakas

In this week's column for the Waukesha Freeman (cheaper than that other newspaper), I compare the approaches Walker and Vrakas took to the coming federal "stimulus" spending. As Vrakas points out in this interview with Mark Belling, it's a principled stand by Walker, but the stimulus spending is coming whether we want it or not. It's the same position I take in the column and I think Walker made an unnecessary political mistake.

Walker would rather the federal government cut taxes instead. And again Walker is right. Making the Bush tax cuts permanent, coupled with other reductions in taxes, would have both an immediate and long-term beneficial effect on the economy.

But there is an amount of political reality Walker needs to deal with. It’s unlikely the Obama administration is going to reverse course now. The massive spending is going to take place, even if hundreds of politicians were to take the same position as Walker.

And Walker’s county is not one short of needs. We have to wonder if Walker could have avoided much of the criticism he’s endured if he had drafted a list using the very criteria he described as necessary for them.

Over the border, County Executive Vrakas has taken a different approach. Vrakas has put together a $94.7 million list of projects.

According to Vrakas, the stimulus money should go to projects that are one-time capital expenditures that will not result in new ongoing costs. He also told The Freeman that there should be a requirement for local government matching of federal funds to keep a limit on the projects. Presumably Vrakas’ list of projects matches his criteria.

Except for the matching requirement, Vrakas’ criteria sound remarkably like Walker’s. Vrakas, too, says that tax cuts need to be part of the stimulus equation. But Vrakas has made the mature and necessary political calculation that the stimulus package is coming. It’s up to the local politicians to control the manner in which this spending tidal wave is approached.

Walker will probably survive this latest political storm. Conservatives may even remember his stand as principled, even noble.

Over the border, it’s doubtful anyone will remember Vrakas’ nuanced stand on the stimulus, and will be grateful in the long term if needed capital expenditures are made at a reduced cost to the Waukesha County taxpayer.