What do Tuesday’s Election Results Mean for You, the Taxpayer?

The days immediately after an election is the traditional time for armchair quarterbacking and grand pronouncements about this politician’s bright future or that politician’s sudden and surprising demise. The politicians generally offer grand pronouncements and the punditry devote endless hours examining how candidate x beat candidate y.

But what do the results of Tuesday’s election mean for you, the taxpayer? What does the future look like for the people who actually work hard each and every day to pay their taxes?

  • First, there seems to be a chance that our country may hit the brakes on the rocket sled ride to debt hell, even if it is $3 trillion dollars too late. Wisconsin’s very own, Congressman Paul Ryan, may be the one to steer us back from the brink of financial insolvency. Taxpayers around the country hope Ryan will finally get the Budget Chairmanship position that he so richly deserves. A position that would afford him the national platform to make the case for a return to fiscal sanity and government austerity. Finally, taxpayers will have a friend in a position of power who actually believes in, and can articulate a compelling argument why, a vibrant free enterprise system is the best answer to our nation’s problems. Perhaps we can even shrink the ever-expanding social welfare state. Current and future taxpayers – our children, grandchildren and our great-children should be doing cartwheels of joy.
  • Wisconsin taxpayers do have a limit to how much reckless spending we can stomach. We finally stood up to our favorite maverick, Senator Russ Feingold, when he went along with the rest of Washington to bury us in a mountain of debt. In just six short months, Ron Johnson, a political newbie, barnstormed this state with a message that government must live with its means and toppled one of the titans of Wisconsin politics. It wasn’t Senator Feingold’s vote against the Patriot Act after 9-11, or his fight to end the Iraq war that did him in. It was his votes for the jobless stimulus package and the government takeover of our health care system that convinced Wisconsinites, penny-pinchers that we are, that it was time for a new voice and a new direction in Washington.
  • Taxpayers across the state also let it be known that tax increases to pay for railroad projects will not fly with them Forty-five different municipalities in Dane County voted against a tax increase to fund commuter rail, with the average vote against the proposal in each of the those communities at seventy-two percent. In politics, anything above sixty is a landslide. Take a second to think about that. This is Dane County, where Democratic candidate Tom Barrett won by more than 80,000 votes! We saw similar results in Racine County. Seventy percent of the voters there rejected an advisory referendum asking if new local taxes should be enacted to support transit or rail services.
  • And statewide, taxpayers voted for an end to sleight of hand tricks by our government just to balance a budget. Fifty-three counties voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to prevent the raiding of transportation funds to pay for programs in other agencies. The average percentage vote in favor of the proposal was seventy percent. Wisconsinites know that when we face trying financial times at home we cannot rob Peter to pay Paul. Now we expect Madison to live by this same philosophy.
  • Most important, taxpayers now have a Governor who not only will say the words “We should not, we must not and I will not raise taxes” but one who actually means it, and who has a track record to back it up. Governor Doyle uttered those words back in 2003. He then went on a taxing and spending binge, in just the last budget alone, that increased taxes by over $2 billion, increased spending by $3.6 billion, increased our debt and still left Wisconsin with a structural deficit of $2.33 billion heading into 2011 ($13 billion of bad).

County Executive Scott Walker has been clear in his governing philosophy from day one of his election back in 2002. Downsize the cost, the size and the reach of government. Candidate Walker was equalling clear on the campaign trail with his answers to what Wisconsin needs to do to get back on track – less government in general, less spending, fewer bureaucrats, smaller not bigger state government. He did not duck anyone’s questions or equivocate his answers. Voters in Wisconsin knew exactly where Walker stood on the question of spending and taxes when they voted for him on Tuesday.

The truly fascinating question is if Governor-elect Walker has a real fiscal conservative majority that will support his plan to put Wisconsin back on the road to financial solvency. With Republicans holding a sixty seat majority in the Assembly and a nineteen seat majority in the State Senate, most observers believe that he does.

But freshmen legislators be warned: the seventy-seven square miles surrounded by reality that is Madison has a way of warping your mind. Simple concepts like living within your means, prioritizing wants versus needs and when you find yourself in a hole, quit digging, all tend to get distorted or lost altogether under the great granite dome. The pressure from the special interests will be frantic and it will never let up.

Will legislators have the spine to make deep spending cuts across the board, roll back popular programs, reign-in gold-plated government health insurance and retirement benefits and eliminate wasteful programs all together? Past results would suggest no. But we’ll be here to help bolster their resolve.

So, again, what did Tuesday’s election mean for you, the Wisconsin taxpayer? It means your job has just begun. Yes, we just finished a seemingly endless campaign season, but we are at the start of a long and exhausting fight. A fight to take back our government, a fight to lower the cost and scope of government, a fight to return Wisconsin back to greatness. Many politicians are counting on the fact that now that the election is over, you will go about your normal lives and forget about Madison. They hope that all of the frustration and anger that has been on display at tea parties and rallies across this state will slowly dissipate.

Because they know what we know to be true: If taxpayers stay informed and engaged, we can affect change in Madison and across our country.

Stay tuned.

By Brett Healy
The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy