/ Opinions / It’s time to quit playing games

It’s time to quit playing games

April 17, 2020

We’ve seen enough, and we think most of citizens have seen enough, too.

We’ve seen enough of the governor and the state Legislature playing games with the people of our state. And, make no mistake, that is exactly what they are doing as this extraordinary crisis unfolds.

On the one side, Democrat Gov. Tony Evers has proposed legislation that looks like a Democratic Party wish list, with many items simply unrelated to the pandemic. Democrats typically refuse to act in the public interest, oftentimes hoping for disasters they can take advantage of, and that’s exactly what is going on with Evers right now. 

While the governor tries to use the emergency to grow government, repeal voter ID laws, and strangle choice schools, among other things, the people of Wisconsin are waiting for help.

For example, both the federal government and the state have extended income tax filing deadlines until July 15. All well and good, except that property owners who owe a second property tax installment are due to pay those taxes just 16 days later, on July 31.

If that property tax date is not postponed until later in the fall — at least to September or October — what is now temporary relief will become a financial disaster for many families. That’s important in our tourist North, too, because if that crush of payments hits, many families will not only go into debt or default on bills but postpone vacations and seasonal visits. 

The state needs to act now to postpone those payments and provide relief to everyone.

There is a provision in the governor’s bill that would toll any deadline that any local government is required by law to satisfy during a public health emergency, including any individual income tax filing deadline, until a certain period has passed after the public health emergency ends.

However, that does not mention nor does it necessarily include the July 31 property tax deadline should the emergency end before then. The bill needs to be amended to do so, and it needs to happen now.

The governor has also not mentioned what he plans to do about the state budget, which will likely be disrupted and upended, just as all budgets are. Families on a tight budget, with many in the household laid off, are doing what they can to survive, and so are small businesses that have to cut costs and undertake layoffs. Many just won’t make it.

Our question is, what does the governor intend to do on the state level? Is he prepared to take comparable action to drastically cut government spending — including furloughs and layoffs — to avoid huge deficits that will require excessive borrowing or tax increases?

While the private sector suffers, we don’t see any movement by the governor to exact equal concessions from nonessential government programs or workers. That’s despicable.

Indeed, all the indications are that he is doing just the opposite, and that brings us to Evers’s proposed emergency bill. It’s a tidy bundle of big government, nanny state, and real emergency spending all put in the same stroller.

It’s the big government and liberal provisions that concern us.

First off, the price tag for Evers’s bill is about $700 million. That’s state dollars he wants to use, not part of federal stimulus dollars. 

Some people have suggested the state’s budget surplus, which has been projected to be as high as $620 million this year, be used to pay for Evers’s Follies, but because of the pandemic there likely won’t be a surplus. That brings us back to higher taxes if the governor doesn’t pursue offsetting costs, or the package isn’t whittled back, which it should be.

Like we say, it looks like Evers is using the crisis to grow government. His legislation would increase general purpose revenue appropriated to DHS to fund 64 new full-time positions. The bill does not include any provision that those positions will be ended after the emergency.

Under the bill, too, the administration may increase the number of hours a state employee in a limited term appointment may work during the emergency, which is set at no more than 1,040 hours. There’s no requirement that these be essential positions.

Also under the bill, state employees may take annual leave during a public health emergency even if the employee has not completed the first six months of the employee’s probationary period, which is now required. Again, it seems this applies to every public employee.

If ever there was a scheme to use a crisis to expand big government and feather the nests of public employees, this bill is it.

And, of course, there are other items not related to the actual pandemic. Among other things, Evers would suspend the voter ID requirement for upcoming elections during the emergency. It might be temporary, but he would have gotten his foot in the door on a major legislative priority of his, and there’s the bonus of the mischief it could cause for the April 7 election — mischief Evers seems keen on creating.

Of note to northern Wisconsin, Evers’s bill would shovel another $25 million into the crony-riddled Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which does little more than channel taxpayer dollars to special interests downstate at the expense of taxpayers in northern Wisconsin, who pay part of the freight and get nothing in return.

And by mandating that no school receiving public dollars — including voucher schools — can reduce hours or lay any employees off, the bill would help to strangle choice schools that don’t have other secure revenue streams that public schools do.

Not that the state Legislature seems to be acting any better. Both Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) have castigated the governor on some of the foregoing provisions, but they seem paralyzed to act on any provision, even on those related to the emergency that would provide needed relief to citizens and an adequate public-health response to the pandemic.

Fitzgerald has whined that sometime — sometime, maybe in the next few weeks — the Legislature will get around to some responsible legislation.

“We’re hopeful we can hit the floor with a bill that can address policy concerns in the next couple of weeks through a virtual session of the Senate,” the majority leader told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

That next few weeks should be yesterday. Lawmakers need to do what Republicans did to Nancy Pelosi’s wish list in Congress — kill the big government follies and pass a sensible bill. 

Maybe Fitzgerald and Vos haven’t heard that 160 people per second were calling the state unemployment office; maybe Republicans really are just numb to people’s pain, but they need to act — in whatever way they plan to act — or pay the consequences. 

We would suggest pursuing immediate cuts to government spending to pay for major new tax relief for our residents. Consider, too, as a Wisconsin Policy Forum analysis is pointing out, tourism counties like ours in the North are going to take a huge punch to the gut, and our own northern lawmakers need to be figuring out what the state can do, including tax relief and postponement of property tax payments.

Instead, we haven’t heard a peep from them.  

How odd that these supposed conservatives are content to sit on the sidelines, thereby empowering a Democratic governor, and to let the federal government render the state irrelevant in perhaps the most important crisis of our lifetime. 

So much for states’ rights and responsibility.

Sitting on the sidelines now is simply not acceptable when people’s lives are at stake, and neither is the brazen power grabbing by Evers and the Democrats.

The time for playing games is over. Now is the time for both parties to act. 

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