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Posted at 2:33 PM ET, 02/23/2011

Wisconsin governor's -- and the GOP's -- strange 'budget discipline'

By Stephen Stromberg

Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, says that concern over his state's relatively modest budget crisis motivates his drive to strip public-sector employees of their ability to bargain collectively. And, yet, he just decided to put Wisconsin into a fiscal strait-jacket, signing a bill Tuesday that would require a two-thirds supermajority in the state legislature or a state-wide referendum to raise a range of taxes. This is not the sign of a serious budget hawk, whatever you think of Walker's policies on public-sector unions.

If Walker believes that the state is spending too much and should cut outlays to balance its books now, fine. He won his election, and he has the votes in the legislature to pass his solution. But he's attempting to force every governor after him to choose the same course, even if future state governments face drastically different budgetary circumstances.

Politicians have incentives to lower taxes when times are good. If taxes require a two-thirds vote or a referendum to pass, it's exceptionally difficult to raise them again. Even a rump conservative opposition in the state legislature can block tax increases. A referendum, meanwhile, divorces approval of unpopular tax increases with that of any larger -- and more appealing -- budget compromise that they would undergird, stacking the deck against passage. When inevitable budget crises happen, these provisions reduce lawmakers' ability to compromise, since they don't have a full range of policy options from which to choose. State politics fossilize; Democrats see little reason to give up the spending they like if enough Republicans won't meet them anywhere close to the middle. This is what happened after a similar measure passed in California, which now lurches from one fiscal crisis to the next. Though, at least in Wisconsin, a future legislature might choose to repeal its law.

Against this cautionary history, Walker claims that the supermajority requirement will "help government operate within its means." But removing budgetary flexibility -- on either the spending or the taxing side -- is almost never a good idea, and doing so in the name of fiscal sanity is beyond daft. This isn't just a problem in Wisconsin. As Matt Miller pointed out Wednesday, it is this sort of "budget discipline" -- in which making "hard choices" means the other side's priorities suffer -- that GOP lawmakers in the House of Representatives are taking toward the federal budget. This supermajority rule or a no-new-taxes pledge might satisfy Republicans' ideological imperatives. But they're not conducive to serious budget balancing.

By Stephen Stromberg  | February 23, 2011; 2:33 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Comments

Mr. Stromberg: Good point. But probably Gov. Walker's aim is not to solve the budgeting problem per se, but to hamstring government so that it must shrink and wither. Like other tea party types, he may wish to return government to the antebellum "good ole days" of low-funded, weak state houses, in order to give free reign to private businesses. His next step may be to sell off state assets to private interests.

Posted by: jchaney | February 23, 2011 4:37 PM | Report abuse

The two-third supermajority bill is just symbolic anyway. The next governor can just reverse it.

Posted by: jambalaya | February 23, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Good God, I hate Republicans - they have become so anti-government of any sort and so many idiots of the American voting public have become so brainwashed by talk radio (especially people of faith) that they are ready to pollute God's creation, greed is good, screw the sick and poor (they believe anybody of need are there of their own doing), and somehow justify these beliefs although the Bible teaches differently - they believe only they are patriotic - what a bunch of close minded idiots!

Posted by: southernbutnotstupid | February 23, 2011 8:03 PM | Report abuse

He's just reinforcing that this administration will focus on budget cuts. As the democrats said after the 2008 election, "we won", which Obama reinforced by saying the republicans can ride, but they need to sit in the back of the bus.

Posted by: Marin823 | February 23, 2011 9:28 PM | Report abuse

Marin823 is obbviously good at parroting Faux News and Limbaugh talking points, but can s/he point to a specific instance of Obama saying republicans need "to sit in the back of the bus"?

When will these people learn that they're being led around like sheep by Murdoch, the Kochs, and other plutocrats who lie to them?

Marin823, I suggest you watch something other than Faux News and Limbaugh, and learn to think for yourself.

Posted by: sambam | February 23, 2011 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Sambam:
Marin823 is obbviously good at parroting Faux News and Limbaugh talking points, but can s/he point to a specific instance of Obama saying republicans need "to sit in the back of the bus"?

When will these people learn that they're being led around like sheep by Murdoch, the Kochs, and other plutocrats who lie to them?

Marin823, I suggest you watch something other than Faux News and Limbaugh, and learn to think for yourself.
--------------------------------------

Hah, you obviously don't watch much news, I actually heard the audio. Love how you obama supporters love to say it didn't happen and it's just a Fox News lie. It's great you can follow the Alinsky rules that way. But, unfortunately, in this world there are actual audio and video tapes available. Just because you didn't see it on MSNBC or read in the daily kos doesn't mean it didn't happen, does it?

Posted by: Marin823 | February 24, 2011 1:20 AM | Report abuse

Sambam:
Marin823 is obbviously good at parroting Faux News and Limbaugh talking points, but can s/he point to a specific instance of Obama saying republicans need "to sit in the back of the bus"?

When will these people learn that they're being led around like sheep by Murdoch, the Kochs, and other plutocrats who lie to them?

Marin823, I suggest you watch something other than Faux News and Limbaugh, and learn to think for yourself.
--------------------------------------

Hah, you obviously don't watch much news, I actually heard the audio/ saw the video. He said it on October 25 in Providence, Ri. Love how you obama supporters love to say it didn't happen and it's just a Fox News liew and I'm just an idiot. Guess you have to live by some rules, it's great you can follow the Alinsky rules that way. But, unfortunately, in this world there are actual audio and video tapes available. So, in reality, it just turns out you are the idiot because it did happen. Check it out, then post your apology if you have the intestinal fortitude.

Posted by: Marin823 | February 24, 2011 1:28 AM | Report abuse

I have come to the conclusion that the average Republican supporter is just a non thinking , non reasoning idiot , brainwashed by the BS coming out of Fox and Limbaugh , right wing propagandists who would make Joseph Goebbels proud . Republican supporters are cult members , just like parrots , repeating what they hear from the sheep herders and automatically believing what they are told , no critical thinking or reasoning what so ever . Funny that these so called patriots and lovers of freedom , defenders of the Constitution and of Democracy want to hand themselves and their country over to the super wealthy , to people like the multi billionaire Koch brothers and to the Corporations who's only concern and loyalty is not to this country or to the people of this country but to the $ and how much they can profit , where ever and how ever . A government for and by the rich and the corporations not for and by the people ! They don't care about this country and they certainly do not care about the average American , the working men and women in this country , the 80 or 90 percent of us , the majority ! The Republicans do not give one damn about you unless you are among the top 5 % , among the very wealthiest , they play the ignorant and the simpletons for their votes , meanwhile they are stabbing you in the back and plotting against you and your family ! This attempt to bust the union in Wisconsin is not about the budget in Wisconsin , it is the Republican right wing and another attempt to finish off unions , they hate them because they give people power and protection and employers cannot just walk all over them and abuse them at will , better peasants , beggars and slaves who are at the mercy of the wealthy , at the mercy of their bosses and employers , completely powerless and helpless , that's where the Republicans want all of us . The Republicans represent the Chamber of Commerce , Corporate CEO's , the very wealthiest and the fat cats at the Wall Street Casino , the rest of you , they are taking you for a ride , big time .

Posted by: Koom | February 24, 2011 2:27 AM | Report abuse

Until 2010, California had this provision in it's constitution. The gridlock and budget crisis in that state went on year after year after year for decades. If Walker thinks he has budget woes now, wait until this provision takes effect.

Posted by: deb81556 | February 24, 2011 8:43 AM | Report abuse

He is following in the footsteps of California, where similar measures have destroyed its education system and led to deficits that are bringing the state ever closer to bankruptsy.

Interesting how on Fareed Zakarea's GPS Jamie Dixon, ceo of JP MOrgan Chase, said without blinking that California's deficit problem could be solved with a 1% tax hike.

What I see devolving before my eyes is a country that once believed in pulling together as happended in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Now the US in on a path toward a feudal capatilist model based on the serfdom of the masses.

Posted by: r_hzka | February 24, 2011 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Most politicians were brain-damaged by the monetarist economics that came out of Univ. of Chicago. They should understand Keynes' theory's that say that one MUST pay back the deficit during good times and go into deficit (using the credit obtained during the "pay back" periods). Politicians only want to be re-elected so both parties are subject to the same ethical bias. Thos. Jefferson got into the house of Birgesses by buying a keg of rum which was placed in the local tavern frequented by the landed gentry of Virginia!
Almost as bad as the railroads hiring the Houses of ill-repute to service the legislatures if Alabama and Louisiana until the states passed the railroad subsidy acts enabling the people to be taxed to build the railroads in their states!

We talk about Democracy but practice an oligarchical autocracy!

Posted by: RubberDucky2 | February 24, 2011 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Very good points, sir. But I think you miss the Wisconsin governor's entire point. IMHO, he couldn't care less about the impact his strategies have on future governors and legislatures. He's a bought and paid for employee of Koch Industries and his goal is to make the environment friendly for his lords and masters... at any cost.

Posted by: CardFan | February 24, 2011 9:17 AM | Report abuse

jcchaney: you are right about the plan to sell government owned assets - in this case, what are about to be sold WITHOUT a bidding process, are state-owned energy plants....we in Wisconsin suspect that if this awful, mis-named "budget repair bill" passes, the new owners of these utilities will be companies in the Koch Brothers holdings.

Posted by: Margareta1 | February 24, 2011 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Super-Majorities are a clear message that Republican distrust democracy. Destroying American majority rule any way they can is what they are all about. Considering that they supposedly outnumber liberals 43% to 20%, in the long run it may hurt them more than liberals. However, shooting themselves in the foot is their standard way of doing business. Anything for a short term gain. Just like they are selling out our future on climate change.

Just be happy they didn't require unanimous assent. Now let's see them apply the same logic to other issues.

Posted by: samsara15 | February 24, 2011 9:28 AM | Report abuse

deb8556 wrote:
Until 2010, California had this provision in it's constitution. The gridlock and budget crisis in that state went on year after year after year for decades. If Walker thinks he has budget woes now, wait until this provision takes effect.
----------------------------------------
Deb, maybe I'm wrong, bu as far as I recall, passing a budget was removed from the supermajority in 2010, however, raising taxes still requires the supermajority.

Posted by: Marin823 | February 24, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Gm just reported a profit of several billion dollars , the first since 2004 , the union workers received bonus pay checks , too bad Republicans ! The Republicans wanted to do all the American auto makers in and not help them out as they did the crooks on wall Street , no matter how many hundreds of thousands of jobs affected and lost they wanted to destroy those auto worker unions ! Too bad Republicans , the American auto industry is alive and well , they are paying the loans back , they are making a profit and people are working ! Too bad Republicans !

Posted by: Koom | February 24, 2011 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Excellent article Mr. Stromberg. It's refreshing to read facts versus being fed what to believe by Faux Not News! Keep up the good work.

Posted by: TruCherryHillNJ | February 24, 2011 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Forcing a supermajority or a referendum to raise or cut spending may seem inefficient but it would stop the unsustainable cost of some program. That is, the bussed in protestors from outside Wis. don't represent the citizens of Wis. How to prioritize expenditures in the present and future will not be business as usual nor should it. When you talk money, folks get real ugly, and it is better to have as much buy in as possible.

Posted by: windmill3 | February 24, 2011 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Budget discipline, for liberals apparently, is spend what you want and tax accordingly. Real discipline, like in the average household budget, is exactly what the Governor is proposing. You can't tax (raise income) easily, so restraint in spending, and choosing the spending priorities is the practical and disciplined alternative. This is voted on by the legislature, as has been proposed by the Governor. There must be accountability, and difficulty, in raising taxes and reining in government spending. The Governor is accountable, now the liberal Democrats are forced to be. As Mr. Stromberg shows, they don't like it. The people of Wisconsin do, though, as the last election shows.

Posted by: bon42746 | February 24, 2011 3:42 PM | Report abuse

stephen?
do you have a balanced budget at home?

or would you accept being a few hundred thousand in the red, as OK??

why does government not have to live within thier means?

grow up!!

Posted by: simonsays1 | February 24, 2011 3:51 PM | Report abuse

jchaney--Actually, Walker's plan to sell off state assets to private companies isn't in the future, it's a part of this bill.

One of the provisions of the bill gives him the right to sell off any or all of the state owned power plants to anyone he chooses on a no-bid basis. In addition to that, it includes the wording that any such sale will automatically be deemed to be in the public interest, thereby bypassing current law which requires that any such sale be certified to be in the public interest before it can take place.

Posted by: dizzy7 | February 24, 2011 3:52 PM | Report abuse

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