MacIver News Service | December 30, 2013[Madison, Wisc…] By recent standards, 2013 was a quiet year here in Wisconsin. No professional protestors squatting in our state’s capitol. No zuzuvelas. No recall elections. But from a public policy perspective, 2013 saw some incredibly important decisions that will impact our state and taxpayers for years, maybe decades, to come.
MacIver has combed through all of the headlines from the last year to come up with our list of the top 10 stories of 2013. Drumroll please.
For the first time in the history of our state, parents outside the cities of Milwaukee and Racine will now have power to choose an education that best meets the needs of their child. After much debate and significant changes to Governor Walker’s original plan, a statewide expansion of school choice passed in the 2013-2015 state budget. While the initial enrollment is shamefully inadequate and kept this story from being ranked higher, it is a start for all of Wisconsin’s parents, no matter where they live, to finally having the ultimate power over their children’s education. Taking power out of the hands of bureaucrats and letting parents choose the education that is best for their child will pay dividends for years to come.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett tried to pull a fast one by forcing the exorbitantly high cost of his pet streetcar project onto Wisconsinites who live outside his city. After Brett Healy, the MacIver Institute’s President, raised concerns about this sleight of hand maneuver with the Public Service Commission, Legislators essentially put an end to it in the state budget. This was an important legislative change because if the Mayor had gotten away with his scheme, other Mayors and municipalities would have noticed and attempted the same scam. And the beauty of it all, if the Mayor still wants his streetcar, the Mayor can convince Milwaukee property taxpayers they need it so they will want to pay for it.
Now this is what democracy looks like.
After making tough fiscal decisions in the last two budgets, Wisconsin found itself quickly reaping the benefits of those decisions with unexpected surplus revenues. Even after passing property tax freezes in the last two budgets, the Governor and the Legislature decided to give Wisconsin property taxpayers an early Christmas gift by sending the surplus back in the form of more property tax relief. The extra $100 million in the state equalization aid formula allowed many local governments to not just freeze but actually reduce property taxes for the first time in years.
Given how most politicians love to spend our tax dollars on pork projects and other nonsense, the fact that they gave our money back to us is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.
While our friends on the left raised a ruckus when the Governor decided to reject the unsustainable federal expansion of Medicaid, they never quite got around to properly thanking him for his idea to end the BadgerCare waiting list.
After Governor Doyle greatly expanded the income limits for the program to those who make significantly more than the federal poverty level (FPL), Wisconsin quickly found itself with people making less than FPL who could not enroll. The most recent state budget changed this broken system. Wisconsinites making less than FPL will now have access to health care coverage through BadgerCare and those Wiscosinites who make more than FPL will receive coverage on the federal exchange.
Due to the disastrous rollout of the federal HealthCare.gov website, the reforms to BadgerCare are delayed until April.
Speaking of the disastrous rollout…
In the first few weeks of the enrollment period for Obamacare, it was nearly impossible to sign up on the federal website. We at the MacIver Institute tried multiple times in October and ran into continuous glitches and errors. The rollout of Obamacare may have been one of the worst federal program launches in history. In the first month, only 877 Wisconsinites were able to sign up for insurance.
That is what happens when politics are put ahead of policy. The political side of the Obama administration kept delaying key aspects of the law and the testing process until after the election. When it came time to finally launch the website, they were far from ready. Maybe the administration should have paid more attention to preparing for a law they were so eager to support, rather than the next election.
For decades, Big Labor in Wisconsin has forced government workers to join a public sector union and more appalling, taken their hard-earned money through compulsory dues to pay for union activities. Wisconsinites were never given the basic freedom of a choice to join or not to join the union. That is, until this year.
After multiple lawsuits and court cases held up recertification elections for public school district collective bargaining units, the elections finally happen November 29th through December 19th. The end result was more than 80 unions failing to recertify and nearly 17,000 members saying no to form a union. Even though a majority of the unions recertified, a significant number of public workers decided they would be better off without a union and the fact that Wisconsinites finally had the freedom to choose makes this a big story of 2013.
Months after the failed launch of the federal exchange, people were able to access the website and encountered another problem: sticker shock. An analysis by the MacIver Institute found that a family in Milwaukee could face costs upward of $22,000 a year on the Obamacare exchange. In fact, some Wisconsin residents will see their premiums double under the new health care law. It has become clear that the Affordable Care Act has done nothing to lower the cost of health care.
Unemployment and food stamp fraud are extremely high in Wisconsin. In 2012, more than 1,500 cases of unemployment fraud were detected and only 11 resulted in convictions. In the case of food stamps, a 2012 audit revealed that more than $2 million illegally went to prison inmates and others that did not qualify for the program.
The most recent state budget and other legislation aim to crack down on the fraud and abuse of these entitlements. Now, individuals will have to look for a job 4 times per week instead of just two times. Other legislation reduces the amount of reasons a person can leave a job and still receive unemployment benefits from 18 to nine, and the budget requires people to have a job or be in a job-training program to qualify for food stamps.
These reforms and fraud prevention efforts will leave these programs financially stronger and ensure that they are there in the future to actually help those who need it.
What may seem like an easy fix to health care reform in the country may soon come back to haunt states that accepted the “free” federal money in the form of the massive federal Medicaid expansion. While the federal government promises to cover the costs for the first three years, they have been known to forget their promises more frequently than not. The federal government is also more than $17 trillion in debt.
Instead of relying on uncertain funding for an expansion of one of the biggest federal programs in the country, Wisconsin made the right move to reform health care in a different and more responsible way. When other states in the future are facing exploding Medicaid costs with no choice but to kick people off the program, we will look back to say we made the prudent decision.
After years of billion dollar tax increases and massive deficits, Wisconsin is finally turning the corner. The fiscally responsible decisions made in the last budget have left the state on solid financial footing. By turning a $3.6 billion deficit into a multi-million surplus, Governor Walker and the Legislature were able to lower income taxes by nearly $650 million. All income taxpayers will see a decrease in their rate. Not just the politically favored or the insiders, everyone. Because every hard-working Wisconsinite deserves a tax cut.
And just as important, they started to simplify the tax code. The number of tax brackets actually went from five to four. They also removed many unused credits and deductions. You shouldn’t need an accountant to do your taxes and politicians shouldn’t be handing out credits to special interests.
This was a huge win for the Wisconsin taxpayer.
And, there is even more good news for the Wisconsin taxpayer. Governor Walker and legislators are talking about more income tax relief in the near future.
We here at the MacIver Institute hope that income tax cuts continue to be a top story in Wisconsin for years to come.
What do you think the top news stories of 2013 were? Agree or disagree. Share with us below.