Editor’s Note: This column first ran back in 2010 when Democrat Jim Doyle was Governor and Democrats controlled both the Assembly and the Senate.
February 19, 2018
By Brett Healy, MacIver Institute President
Time is running out in Madison.
There are fewer than a handful of days left for legislative ideas to become law in the 2017-2018 biennial floor session. We here at the MacIver Institute like to refer to this time of the biennium as “the silly season.”
Silly because the usually very slow and deliberate pace of the legislative process sinisterly turns into a frantic rush to get a laundry list of legislation passed before legislators head home to run for re-election. A full nine months seems like a long time to campaign. Given the current political environment and what Capitol insiders consider to be the recent shocking loss in the 10th Senate District, leggies must think they need more time to persuade the voters for another term.
This is the silly season because an idea that is casually launched into the vast social media universe through a tweet is quickly turned into legislation with a big price tag and run through the legislative process at breakneck speed. Gov. Walker is proposing to increase the job retention tax credits available to Kimberly Clark from 7 percent up to a Foxconn-matching 17 percent to induce the company to keep two plants open in the Fox Valley. According to State Sen. Roger Roth, author of the tweet-induced legislation, AB 963 could cost up to $10 million a year.
Silly season that many of us who expressed concern that the Foxconn deal was a slippery slope believed that wouldn’t be the case because the Governor assured us that it wouldn’t be. Foxconn was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring an entire new industry not just to the United States but here to Wisconsin.
It literally was only a matter of days before the one-time opportunity of a lifetime became the reflex answer to the political crisis of the day.
And, yet, we here at MacIver are deemed the silly ones for believing if Wisconsin is going to hand out incentives to Foxconn, we should treat all businesses the same. Why is it silly to think that we can give the Foxconn treatment to all businesses by lowering the corporate tax rate by a similar amount? It’s silly to think the government should pick winners and losers.
God, I hate it when the government picks winners and losers.
Silly season because shortly after the loss in the 10th, Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans proposed a new $50 million-a-year Rural Initiative Fund. It’s silly because we have existing programs that can accomplish this goal if need be, and because conservatives should always be wary of a new spending entitlement program. Supposedly the political calculus behind the idea was that, after surprisingly losing a reliable but rural Republican seat, Republicans need to do something to keep rural Trump voters happy leading up to the 2018 elections. President Trump won the 10th Senate District 55 to 38 in 2016, but Democrat Patty Schachtner won it 55-44 in a low-turnout special election.
What is really silly is to think that Trump voters, especially Trump voters in rural areas, voted for Trump with the hope that they would get their own government slush fund. Rural Wisconsin voted for Trump because it was sick of everything DC and hoped President Trump would turn the economy around. Turning the economy around by cutting oppressive taxes and rolling back stifling regulations. Not once did we ever hear a Trump supporter ask for a new government rural America fund. Not once.
This is the silly season season because legislation that once seemed dead is now, like the zombies in The Walking Dead, miraculously coming back to life. Again and again.
AB 688 would resurrect from the dead the Civilian Conservation Corps, a costly Great Depression-era program that was scrapped by Gov. Jim Doyle in 2003.
Yes, that Jim Doyle. The same Jim Doyle who was famous for having enough tax increases in his budget to sink a battleship, but even that Jim Doyle knew what a make-work boondoggle the Conservation Corps was. Jim Doyle knew the Conservation Corps was a silly idea whose time had gone.
It is the silly season because even bad ideas we recently killed won’t stay dead. Just a few months ago, during the budget debate, the outcry over a proposal to create an all-powerful alcohol czar that would enforce Wisconsin’s anti-competitive three tier regulation system was so fierce that it was pulled from consideration. Sure enough, just last week, the state Senate tried to introduce and pass out of committee a new version of this far-reaching proposal to create the alcohol czar in less than one week. Think about that for a second. One week.
How silly of us to think that the legislative process was a deliberative process and a geniune attempt by lawmakers to solve the real problems facing Wisconsinites. What problem are we trying to solve here? We have too many craft breweries in this state and we have too many beers to choose from when we go out for Friday fish fry?
Finally, this may be the silly season of all silly seasons because with conservatives in charge – in charge of the East Wing, the Senate and the Assembly – they have recently introduced legislation that spends an astonishing $476 million. The $476 million is a conservative figure that will go up by at least $200 million once all of the new programs they are proposing are created and fully implemented.
Maybe we can hope that all of these last minute, new spending bills and entitlements will die once taxpayers are given a chance to voice their displeasure. Or maybe we can hope that the session clock will thankfully run out before they make it to the Governor’s desk.
That would be silly.
Editor’s Note: While the original column ran in 2010 during an entirely different set of political circumstances, it should be noted that it did not take long to adapt it to the present day.