Forgetting the Year That Was

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

The year 2012 was, as Dickens put it, the “best of times, it was the worst of times.” Another writer might have said it was the year our glorious summer was made the winter of our discontent. For all the hope that conservatives had at the beginning of the year, the darkening days of 2012 held dark promise for the year ahead.

The story of the year in Wisconsin was the unsuccessful recall in June of Governor Scott Walker. Ostensibly over the passage of Act 10, the recall proved to be a “do-over” of the 2010 race for governor. Walker defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett again, this time by a wider margin.

During the recall election, the Government Accountability Board (GAB) refused to make a database of the recall petition signers and initially opposed striking obviously forged signatures, such as those for Mickey Mouse. The GAB also refused to consider third-party challenges to recall petition signatures.

However, Tea Party groups made databases of the recall petitions, allowing the public to check to see who had signed. A number of local elected officials and even State Superintendent for the Department of Public Instruction Tony Evers signed the recall petitions. Perhaps more disturbing were the revelations that a number of judges had signed the recall petitions, calling into question the judges’ independence. Traditional media sources also took a hit in credibility because of the number of people in the journalism industry that signed.

Election integrity took another hit this year, and not in Waukesha County. Democrats successfully stalled implementation of the state’s voter ID law in the courts, claiming the law disenfranchises poor and elderly voters. The law is awaiting a decision by Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, but it was not in use for the June recall or the August and November elections.

Irregularities plagued the recall election in Racine County, another “do-over” between John Lehman and Van Wanggaard. Reported by Caledonia Patch and the MacIver Institute, these irregularities included unsealed and resealed ballot bags, voters not signing the voter logbook, and questionable same-day registrations.

Meanwhile, Act 10 continues to control state and local spending in Wisconsin, despite challenges in the courts. Act 10 has saved Wisconsin taxpayers over $2 billion, while giving local units of government flexibility for managing public employees.

The success of Walker and the Act 10 reforms has inspired our neighbor Michigan, where the governor and the legislature finished the year by passing Right to Work legislation in their state.

The summer of reform was complete when former Massachusetts Governor and Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney chose Janesville Congressman Paul Ryan to run for Vice President. Ryan was known for his “Road Map,” a plan to bring entitlement spending under control.

However, summer ends, and with it much of the good news. President Barack Obama already successfully defended ObamaCare at the Supreme Court, and then he won re-election in November. Republicans and conservatives, looking at the unemployment numbers, believed the polls were “oversampling Democrats.” Democrats were oversampled again on Election Day.

Wisconsin Republicans had hoped to win the state for Romney/Ryan after the Walker win. They also believed that former Governor Tommy Thompson’s run for Senate to replace Herb Kohl would boost Republican chances.

Instead, the election was a train wreck. Thompson was out of money after the primary, allowing Madison Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin to define him as out of touch with Wisconsin. Romney never stood a chance of winning the Badger State and burned precious resources trying.

If there was a silver lining for conservatives, Republicans returned to the majority in the state Senate with two seats to spare in case of moderate defections. Conservatives can look forward to the next year with a possible mining permitting reform bill and a likely proposed cut in the state income tax.

Looming over the end of the year is the “fiscal cliff,” and the financial rocks below are daunting. If Congress and the president fail to act, the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush will expire. That means tax increases for nearly everybody, not just “the rich.”

If the “fiscal cliff” scenario is not prevented, the payroll tax holiday begun under Obama will also end, meaning paychecks will be taxed at 6.2% for Social Security instead of 4.2%. The inheritance tax threshold drops to $1 million (from over $5 million) and the tax rate shoots up to 55% from 35%. The capital gains tax will increase to 20% from 15%.

Perhaps the biggest shocker for Americans will be if Congress fails to act and the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) threshold is not adjusted for inflation. Congress did not index the AMT, so unless they act, 27 million taxpayers will be subject to higher taxes on income already earned in 2012, according to Forbes.

So we close 2012 on a disconsolate note. Talks between the House of Representatives and Obama have broken down. Congressmen flew home to spend Christmas with their families. A year that began with such promise has given way to a cold winter of fiscal uncertainty.