Legislature needs to come up with budget solution soon

With last month’s “kangaroo court” run by the Democratic members of the state Senate’s Biennial Budget Committee over, it would be a good idea to calm down.

As of this writing, the state Senate has yet to begin debate, or even draft its own version of a budget that will close the gapping $1.1 billion state deficit. Then when one adds in Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chavala’s (D-Madison) habit of stalling critical legislation followed by the steel-cage grudge match to the death of conference, expect a budget by Labor Day.

If there is one good thing to come out of this entire budget mess, it is that the state finally has to look at how it appropriates money. Looking back at past (i.e. Tommy Thompson) budgets over the last decade, two things should immediately come to mind. The first was that overindulgence was the word of the decade. With the economy pumping out enough tax revenue to buy anything, both sides of the aisle did that. The idea of a “rainy day fund” was a concept foreign to those “progressive” thinkers under the Capitol dome.

The second was that the budget grew until becoming the $47 billion monster passed last year with treats for everyone in the state who cried foul for not having enough. Amazing that the incomes, purchases, and property of Wisconsin businesses, landowners, and wage-earners can supply it all on a mere 5 million people.

And Madison says that we’re not a tax hell? Perhaps the infamous “brain drain” is because companies don’t want to set up shop in a high tax state.

The time has finally arrived for every “special-needs” group in the state to grow up, stop whining, learn some accountability, and be responsible with the consequences. They should begin a wholesale liposuction of the fat in their budgets, be good little boys and girls and smile while doing it.

As Gov. Scott McCallum pointed out in his initial proposal, the first thing to go should be shared revenue and one doesn’t have to look further than Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist to find reasons why. In the past month, Norquist backed a $3.5 million plan to build a bike path on the recently repaired Hoan Bridge. It should be noted that the Hoan, known as I-794, spans part of Lake Michigan and is several hundred feet in the air. I-794 can be seen in its incomplete splendor in the first Blues Brothers movie.

Add the light-rail system Norquist wants that could cost the state up to $440 million that might not work in winter plus the needed demolition and replacement of the Marquette Interchange that could take four to five years to complete.

Then there is the unbalanced formula that the state has for giving aid to public schools. Since 1993, the state has promised to provide two-thirds of budgets to local school districts regardless of local property value. (Does Door County and Kohler need that much help?) During that time, there has been a bloating of school budgets, a multiplying of administrators, a soaring of salaries, a rush to replace 20-year-old schools, and enough left over to test out New Age teaching methods.

Green Bay doesn’t need to supply its school superintendent with a six-figure salary, a car, travel expenses, and a health package that rivals the president’s. These are inessential expenses that have nothing to do with educating the state’s youth. The same goes with the growth of the education bureaucracy of the state while the number of school-age children is declining.

Finally, there is the UW System. Does it deserve $108 million cut? Perhaps, considering that the Regents felt like giving UW System President Katharine Lyall and our own Chancellor Donald Mash hefty pay raises, and there is little accountability of the millions given for research to Madison and Milwaukee.

But it should go farther than that. First, the legislature needs to stop playing politics with the Regents and let them be more accountable to the people of this state by having them elected instead of political appointees. Finally, they need to end all the toying with tuition caps and abolish them. Compared to other Big Ten schools, UW-Madison is a bargain, with the rest of the System cheaper still. If the issue at hand truly is the maintenance of quality in the UW schools, students, not just those out-of-state, should be made accountable to the costs.

But that won’t happen. State politicians are too concerned about angering the naive, uninformed hotheads who could vote them out of office. So then students will march off happy they didn’t get hosed on tuition costs as they go to the bars, or to the mall to buy a pair of Tommy jeans and a shirt from Abercrombie & Fitch. All the time acting like the responsible adults they are.