Thursday, June 18, 2009

State budget won't be good for Democrats regardless if Doyle is running

Is the state budget a suicide pact between the governor and the legislature? That's the question I asked in this week's column for the Waukesha Freeman.

Despite claims, state budget hurts middle class, increases spending

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

Is the state budget a suicide pact? This last weekend found Democrats in the Green Bay area holding their state convention and defending their state budget from Republican criticism. The Democrats are telling two lies about the budget. They claim it will not affect the middle class. The MacIver Institute and blogger Steve Eggleston concede that’s true if:

None of your earnings will be from capital gains. You will not drive. You will not smoke (unless you shop at an Indian reservation tobacco store). You will not drink. You will not get sick enough to enter a hospital or urgent care center. You will not purchase over-the-counter drugs. You will not buy downloaded software, songs or videos. You will not shop in Milwaukee County, Calumet County, Winnebago County, Outagamie County, Eau Claire County, Chippewa County or the urbanized portion of Dane County. You will not shop at a business or buy from a business that has operations both within and outside of Wisconsin. You will not own a business. You will not rent a vehicle in Milwaukee County, Racine County or Kenosha County. You will not own any real estate. You will not own a phone. You will not rent any real estate. You will not operate a power boat. You will not operate any small engines requiring gas for operation.

The second lie is that the budget spends less money. It does not. It only spends less in general purpose revenue but actually spends more total money thanks to misspending the stimulus funds and raiding segregated fees. When that money is gone, Democrats will be forced again to either raise taxes or make spending cuts.

Since they had no problem with raising taxes during a recession, what do you think the likely outcome will be in the next budget cycle? The Democrats control the budget process, and the Republicans will bear zero responsibility for the final product.

Not by choice, of course. The Republicans in the state Assembly offered over 100 amendments to the budget only to see them rejected. Democrats, on the other hand, wrote changes into the budget in their caucus sessions and then presented them to the legislative chambers fait accompli.

We might forgive Republicans then for washing their hands of the most radical budget in state history, as it was certainly not of their making.

No, the fault lies with the Democrats, and the burden is heavy upon them. Most heavily does the burden fall upon Governor Doyle, who proposed most of what remains in the state budget and who will shape the final version with his veto power.

A new poll by a Democratic pollster, Public Policy Polling, shows the governor now trailing his two possible Republican rivals in popularity. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker now leads Governor Doyle 48 percent to 40 percent, and former Congressman Mark Neumann leads Doyle 42 percent to 41 percent.

The pollster is careful to point out that it’s not Walker’s or Neumann’s popularity driving the poll numbers, but rather the governor’s unpopularity. Governor Doyle has an unfavorable rating of 60 percent. Among independents the number is 69 percent.

There is speculation that the governor will not seek another term next year. This budget is too radical and the governor will be too unpopular to stand for re-election.

However, the governor was thought to be vulnerable in the last election cycle. That is when Doyle’s supporters muddied then-Congressman Mark Green’s reputation so badly Doyle coasted to an easy victory.

The other problem with believing the governor will not seek re-election is that it does not explain why so many of his fellow Democrats are willing to go along with this budget. They, too, will have to stand for election after this debacle.

Sometimes Democrats just have to be Democrats. When the opportunity came to write the budget without any Republican interference, the Democrats took full advantage. Now it’s just a matter of whether their political fortunes will survive the coming fallout.