Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Scott Walker's Annual Rite of Passing the Buck

Mid-November is here, which means a few things.

Football games are starting to have "playoff implications." I'm sick of raking. Thanksgiving is surprisingly close (it seems to sneak up on me more each year). And Scott Walker is about the demonstrate his penchant for negotiation by vetoing the county budget back to his original proposal.

Last year was the best. Rather than use a veto pen, Walker pulled out his veto grenade and tried to blow up the entire budget. The County Board tossed the grenade right back in a 14-5 override of that super-sized veto, leading Walker to declare in seemingly helpless fashion: "It's their budget now."

In reality, though, the veto grenade didn't remove Walker's responsibility for the annual county budget; rather, it just eliminated any opportunity he had to work with the board on any of the finer points in his budget, such as modernizing the county pool system.

This year isn't going to be any different. The County Board passed its version of this year's budget by the same 14-5 veto-proof margin, and Walker has indicated that he would use the pen, not the grenade this time, to bring the board's proposed 3.7 percent tax increase -- or $6.16 on the average annual property tax bill in the county -- down to zero in order to maintain his no-tax increase campaign pledge.

But due to this pledge, there really isn't much difference between Walker's veto pen and his veto grenade. Walker's starting and ending point is zero, which allows for no middle ground.

Granted, there's nothing that requires the board to negotiate with Walker, but at least none of them made a pledge that constrains their ability to even discuss a compromise. If Walker could come to the table with a few good faith concessions, perhaps that could enhance his ability to press to retain some other areas of his budget.

Instead, just as the uncompromising pledges took the ability to strike a deal away from dozens of legislators in the latest state budget cycle, Walker's pledge removes any chance he would have to push for his positions at the negotiating table; after all, he can't expect to get anything if there's nothing he's willing to give.

And it's one thing when a handful of legislators aren't around to deal; it's a little more conspicuous when the executive is absent from the table.

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Fraley said...

Yeah, if he would just renege on his promise, he'd be a much better politician.

November 13, 2007  
Anonymous Vic said...

If he would renege on his promise he would show his willingness to lead rather than support I ideology.

This crap about pledging to do something regardless of the reality of the situation has got to stop.

November 13, 2007  
Anonymous Vic said...

And another thing Fraley, a good politician doesn't link himself to an ideaology. You can destroy a whole political party that way if you hook up with the wrong people.

November 13, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I'm with Vic on this one, Brian. Walker shouldn't have made that kind of promise in the first place; that's pretty much the point of my post.

And maybe if he didn't make that kind of promise, he'd be able to be more of a committed leader for Milwaukee County at budget time and less of an aspiring politician.

November 13, 2007  
Anonymous Fraley said...

At some point politicians need to look at their constituents ability to pay for services, too.

You can't budget from a wish list, then figure out who is going to pay what for it.

Walker understands that this county is at a tipping point. He promised he'd keep the citizen's tax burdens foremost in his decision making process. That alone was a welcome change from the past. The fact that he's kept the promise? Virtually unheard of in these parts.

The ideology he is adhering to is that of saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and doing as you promise. We'd all be better served if more elected officials did the same.

November 13, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

No one is arguing that Walker shouldn't take a cost-first approach to governing, Brian. (And a 3.8 percent increase, equating to $6.16 on the average property tax bill, is hardly going hog wild with the spending.) The issue is over strict pledges that allow zero room for negotiation and compromise.

Ultimately, this practice only hurts Walker's own position, which was demonstrated last year when he vetoed the entire budget. By taking that route, he missed out on any opportunity to give and take on particular aspects of the budget. He essentially silenced his own voice at the table and came away with nothing he wanted, rather than going in open to compromise and at least coming out with something. (Makes you wonder if he really wanted any of those things he proposed, or if they were just for show.)

All or nothing, while not a bad campaign bumper sticker, just doesn't make for good leadership.

November 13, 2007  
Blogger Russ said...

During the three year period 2000 to 2003 median household income in the City of Milwaukee went down 10%. During the same three year period houshold expenses increased 10%, mostly due to property tax increases.
Obviously the City of Milwaukee politicians are unconcerned about many of their homeowner constituents inability to pay the never ending increases.
At some point, if the trend continues, it will lower the standard of living for thousands Milwaukee households.

November 13, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Normally I'd ask you to provide evidence for your claims, Russ, specifically the "houshold expenses increased 10%, mostly due to property tax increases" part. But, again, this post isn't about cost-conscious governing (after all, we're talking about $6.16 on the average tax bill), it's about strict pledges that allow zero room for negotiation and compromise; in other words, room for the real work of governing.

November 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fraley, spend some time in the Parks - what's the real cost of the increased graffitti, broken glass, general deterioration.

And where's the leadership in not bothering to investigate the ongoing pension problems?

A well programmed computer could lead the County better than him, Who knows - it night actually present some well conceived options to incessant vetoes.

November 13, 2007  
Blogger Russ said...

The question should not be about Walker's zero room for negotiation position. The question should about private sector taxpayers "ABILITY TO PAY" ever increasing property taxes. Declining household income in southeastern Wisconsin has been well documented with US Census Bureau and Dept. of Labor Statistics data in recent years. As I said government taxing authorities are demanding more than taxpayers are able to pay.

November 13, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I didn't question your stats about household income; I questioned your claim that "household expenses increased 10%, mostly due to property tax increases."

And there absolutely should be questions raised about Walker's unwillingness/inability to compromise and negotiate on the budget. He's the elected executive for the county; compromise and negotiation is part of his job.

And regarding "ability to pay," let's not lose sight of the fact that we're talking about $6.16 on the average property tax bill to help pay for services like parks maintenance and to keep fees down for other services like public transit, which many people below the median household income rely upon for transportation.

November 13, 2007  
Blogger Joe Klein said...

If the question is about private sector taxpayers "ABILITY TO PAY," then why don't we see Scott Walker lobbying hard in Madison and Washington to pay for mandated services? Why is Scott Walker so slow on selling Park East land? Why does he appose rail transit, which can, all Charlie Sykes propaganda aside, be an instrument of economic development? Why is Scott Walker not pushing for more jobs and economic development in the central city?

Scott Walker is a one trick "tax freeze" pony.

November 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Russ, Walker is not the mayor of Milwaukee. Nor is he the mayor of southeastern Wisconsin.

Can you focus on the county -- somewhere between your two points of reference, the city that is only one part of the county and the region that includes many counties?

You may have good points and data, but they have to apply to the issue at hand: Milwaukee County.

November 15, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

The data on declining median household income almost certainly holds true for Milwaukee County; heck, the median household income for the entire state (and most states in the country) has declined in recent years. (Where I suspect Russ is flat-out wrong is on the "household expenses increased 10%, mostly due to property tax increases" part, specifically the latter portion.)

But the real issue there is whether declining median household income is reason enough to justify not increasing taxes to help pay for public services like parks, youth programs, disability services, the courts, UW Extension programming, etc., all of which Walker proposed to cut to save $6.16 on the average property tax bill.

To be sure, many factors contribute to median household income figures, including -- most obviously -- the number of single earner households. Tellingly, while median household income is declining in Milwaukee County, per capita personal income is actually has increased every year over the last decade on record. In other words, just because median household income is declining does not necessarily mean that the public's "ability to pay" is doing the same.

That said, just because personal income per capita is increasing doesn't meant that taxes should necessarily increase. It's all just part of the equation, along with the service that's going to be provided, that goes into determining public finance. After all, it's not like these dollars are falling into a black hole. For the most part, they're going to sustain services for the less affluent who have lowest ability to pay.

Take the transit cuts Walker initially proposed. Those would've severely impacted the lower income residents in the county who rely on public transit to get to work, school, the grocery store, etc. Transit funding ended up coming from the state -- thanks, in large part, to Lena Taylor -- but, if it didn't, Walker would've stood by his proposal to cut it (and it's not like "state money" is free; it's coming from tax dollars, just not those in Walker's explicit domain). How exactly would that be protecting the taxpayers who have the most tenuous "ability to pay"?

Put differently, tax dollars don't operate in a vacuum; they are certainly a significant part of the equation when considering what's best for the public -- or "the taxpayer" -- but they're still only a part of that equation.

November 15, 2007  

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