Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Downhill fast

I recently submitted a column for FightingBob.com recapping the damage the budget will do. In case you missed the column, here it is below in its entirety:

Downhill fast

By Rep. Mark Pocan

May, 26, 2011

It’s been two months. The snow has melted. We Assembly Democrats have concluded our historic 62-plus hour floor debate. The Senate 14 came home. Fox News and its fake palm trees have gone back to warmer climates. The national spotlight has gone dark. The 100,000-plus people have left and the Capitol grounds have turned from a mud pit to the grassy areas we all remember. It may seem like things are back to normal in Madison, but don’t let Republicans lull you to sleep.

Inside the Capitol, visitors are still greeted by metal detectors, swarms of State Troopers and a faithful band of progressives who still sing from a progressive song book every noon hour. If you think Walker’s 144-page budget “repair” bill was bad, just imagine how bad the 1,345-page biennial budget is. In just one document, Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers, the rulers of FitzWalkerstan, have undermined so much of what we have worked so hard for.

The biennial budget has something for everyone; or rather, it takes something away from everyone.

For the fans of clean government and campaign finance reform, Republicans have killed the Impartial Justice Act Democrats passed last session in an effort to level the playing field for Supreme Court races. Republican ire for clean campaigns isn’t limited to Supreme Court races, however, as the Joint Committee on Finance just passed a motion that also kills the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund, ending the post-Watergate campaign finance grants that have been in place since the 1970s.

Do you like alternative transportation? Not only does Scott Walker completely eliminate state funding for new bike paths around the state in his budget bill, but Republicans eliminate regional transit authorities as well, both of which were passed last session when I co-chaired the budget committee.

Speaking of the environment, fans of the environment will be appalled to know Walker robbed the state’s recycling fund that helps local governments afford municipal recycling, and instead gave money to corporations through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Not to be outdone, the Fitzgerald brothers’ hand-picked Joint Committee on Finance recently took $280 million from nearly the next decade of funding for the Stewardship Fund.

And there’s something in the biennial budget for corporations too. Walker gave them a nice little handout when he reopened the Las Vegas loophole that Democrats closed last session, allowing corporations to shirk their civic duty to pay taxes. And to add insult to injury, the state’s budget committee recently took aim at the legacy of former Secretary Rod Nilsestuen when they undermined his working lands initiative, allowing farmers a means to protect their land from development, another legacy the Democratic majority cemented in the last budget.

If you are one of the many Wisconsinites who live paycheck to paycheck, there’s something in the budget for you too: more taxes and fees. Even though we were in a tough fiscal spot last budget, Democrats actually increased the Homestead Tax Credit. Republicans reduce that very credit. Also, Republicans have taken away the foreclosure and tenant protections we passed last session. Now, whether you own your home or rent, with a little bit of bad luck you have a better chance of becoming homeless in FitzWalkerstan.

Not to be forgotten, Walker and the Republicans plan to cut approximately $900 million from education. While the Bush recession helped create a deficit twice the size of what Walker is facing, two years ago I personally fought against even deeper proposed cuts in education.

Last but certainly not least, Democrats have made Wisconsin one of the best states in the country on health care, covering all kids and 98 percent of Wisconsinites. Not to be outdone, Walker’s proposed budget will reduce the number of people receiving health care assistance.

Wow, what a difference a couple years can make. With just a slim 52-vote majority in the Assembly, Democrats were able to pass a budget that closed corporate tax loopholes, raised taxes on the wealthiest of Wisconsinites, and held the line on taxes for low and middle-income people while investing in or limiting the cuts to programs that represent our core values as progressives.

The Senate Democrats and Assembly Democrats may have gotten a lot of attention for our two-pronged attack, with the Senate Democrats breaking quorum and the Assembly Democrats fighting like mad on the floor for almost three straight days. However, the real heroes were the 100,000-plus people who marched on the Capitol against the budget “repair” bill. In the end, Republicans proved they aren’t listening to you.

A lot of people have asked me, “What’s next?” There is still a great deal left to fight for (or against). Now, more than ever, progressives need to stand in solidarity to recall Republicans in the Senate and keep that momentum going forward to recall Governor Walker and reinstall progressive values in a state with the motto “forward.” Fighting Bob would expect no less.