Our View: Some cuts, but government expenses still going up
Gov. Jim Doyle's budget, announced recently capitalizes on the Democratic majority to raise taxes by $1.4 billion, cut some spending and realize a few of the governor's personal goals.
Bottom line: We'll pay more and get less.
Doyle's budget plugs the state's budget hole primarily with $1.4 billion raised through higher taxes, $2.2 billion in cuts to state agencies and more than $2 billion in federal stimulus payments.
In a day and age where people are losing jobs, seeing salaries frozen or cut, we don't see much sacrifice on the state's part.
In the current two-year budget, the state is spending about $56.7 billion according to Todd Berry, head of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. In the budget Doyle released, the state will spend $62.7 billion.
Some cite slightly different numbers from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau: They claim state spending will rise from $58.6 billion this biennium to $62.7 billion, an increase of 7 percent.
Either way, it's an increase, not a cut.
"This budget is designed to make necessary cuts, but avoid unnecessary pain," said Doyle.
On the face it, Doyle declared there would be no general sales or income tax increases but that one percent of families who earn more than $300,000 will pay more taxes. That will net $318 million over two years.
That's certainly going to be painful for some. And an increase on capital gains tax will cost some unlucky people $85 million over the next biennium.
Smokers will pay more to plug the state's deficit. Taxes on a pack of heaters will jump 75 cents to $2.52 each or 12.6 cents per cigarette. The added tax could generate an extra $290 million over two years.
The new budget places an additional tax on oil companies, raising $540 million over two years. A potential bad side affect could be higher prices at the pump. All drivers will pay for that.
Doyle's bill also gives police the authority to stop vehicles for suspected seatbelt violations, qualifying Wisconsin for more than $15 million in federal funds, plus money from citations.
And hang onto your I-pod. If you like to download music, you'll pay too.
A portion of the Wisconsin "Deficit Reduction/Economic Stimulus Bill" signed into law orders expansion of sales tax onto "digital goods," which includes digital audio works, audiovisual works, digital books, greeting cards, finished artwork, periodicals, and video or electronic games, if all such items are transferred electronically.
Add this to our existing property and income taxes, 5.5 percent state sales taxes on most goods and some services, taxes on our telephone and cable TV, sewer and water bills, vehicle and RV licensing and registrations, and it's hard not to feel that Wisconsinites are again being overtaxed.
We're not sure how it plugs any budget holes, but Doyle's plan also abolished the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO) law that has limited teachers' raises since 1994. That will now become a local issue for school boards.
An undeniable aspect about the state budget is that, no matter what, it keeps growing. Every year Wisconsin's government costs more. That's still the case, even in the midst of a deepening recession.
With people losing jobs and otherwise facing income cuts, we taxpayers can't keep paying more.
It seems counterproductive to fight unemployment by laying off state employees. But the reality is that state government and its employees have gotten where they are just as so many others have - by wanting and spending more than they can afford.