26 April 2011

Wisconsin, America's China

In recent days it has been said that Wisconsin should be run like a business.  Many people all around the state in all walks of life have nodded their heads in assent.  However, there is a fundamental flaw to this reasoning:  Wisconsin is not a business.  The basic purpose of a business is to earn more than it loses, to profit.  The State is not supposed to turn a profit because in essence that money is public, it was generated through the collection of taxes.  Contrary to this line of thinking, the main function of government is to provide for the welfare of the people, not to earn money.

Providing for the welfare of the people is seemingly a forgotten principle.  It has most assuredly been lost in the current biennial budget that Gov. Walker and the rest of the republicans are going to pass in the next few days.  What a whirlwind this must be for advocates of the business sector and the heads of corporations.  Whether people are willing to admit it or not, the republican have pointedly decided to focus balancing the budget by targeting working people of the State.

The current administration proposes to decimate public education while expanding the voucher program so that an upper middle class family that would love to send their children to Brookfield Academy may now do so with taxpayer money.  Thus while the republicans want to defund MPS and further damage some of the most needy among us, they also want to reward those who actually can afford private schools.

The biennial budget will also leave gaping holes in medical assistance programs.  At a listenning session on April 25th held by Tony Staskunas and David Cullen, Rep. Staskunas was asked about what results would come from the recent DHS hearings, "Badger Care Plus will be gone.  Huge cuts to the Badger Care program.  But there is talk that Senior Care will be saved."  So all of the people that attended the hearings and spoke did so for naught, because nothing has changed from a month ago.  1 in 3 Wisconsin children relies on Badger Care as the sole health care insurance.  What solutions do the republicans offer for those children who will no longer receive health coverage through the Badger Care program?  This is the big unknown.  Even the republicans don't know, they may not care, it's tough to be sure.

A severe undercurrent amid all of the rancor is this: the republican led legislature is not interested in negotiation.  They won the election and they will do what they deem necessary - offer thriving conditions for corporations come in to take advantage of the workers, offer little in compensation, and reap huge benefits for the wealthy - who threaten to leave if their taxes are raised.  As is common in our uncontrolled capitalist society, greed (for money and power) and avarice have taken over.  These actions will more than likely promote failure in the State's largest city that is already teetering with high unemployment and large numbers of imprisoned males.  

A society is predicated on and judged by how it manages, encourages, and funds education, health care, safety, and transportation.  As Moises Naim explains regarding the global economy, "If a country is highly unequal it is very likely that a majority of the population will not be well educated and healthy enough to be able to be the workers that allow a country to compete in the more knowledge-intensive industries that are part of the global economy. So the stakes of not making progress in fighting inequality inside countries are very, very high, morally, politically, and economically."  The budget as proposed by Scott Walker fails to fund all of these categories, fails to provide for the welfare of the people, and fails the future of Wisconsin.
It isn't as though there are no other options.  Because the State is a government, there are many ways in which to find revenue.  A more Keynesian approach would be to fund more programs for the needy, ensure education and health care are well funded, and manage the debt but utilize it to ensure that necessary programs are funded.  

The tax structure in Wisconsin is amiss.  The top earners' bracket starts at $221,600.  Any one making that amount or higher pays 7.5%.  If balancing the budget were the prime motivator in the Biennial Budget, a real proposal would include adding another rate at the top.  An additional 1% on those earning $1 million or more per year.  Within this structure, Wisconsin should also reassess how capital gains are taxed.  A small increase in tax on capital gains could alleviate much of our debt.  From the minuscule 5% to a more reasonable 6% is more than fair and hardly noteworthy for the wealthiest among us.
Additionally, the sales tax in the State has remained at 5% for nearly thirty years.  A .25% increase would mean that in most counties a small sales tax of 5.75% would be included in purchases.  

The other and more controversial issue relates to incarceration.  Wisconsin could save millions of dollars each year by changing the way it handles non-violent drug offenders.  Currently, the maximum jail sentence for a second offense of possession of 200 grams or less of THC is a Class I felony.  The result of this failed drug policy is that non-violent offenders are housed with violent offenders, which leads to higher rates of recidivism, families are permanently damaged when children lose parents for years to imprisonment, and the cost in tax dollars is immense.  

Until the State is willing to address these key issues, the underlying problems will continue to develop and businesses will be increasingly frightened to invest in a less educated, less healthy community.  The republicans are not interested in solving problems, they are interested in punishing their opponents into submission, breaking apart unions, and furthering the destructive force of apathy among voters who see no end in sight. 

The subjugation of the worker starts by forcing the workers to submit to policy decisions that will continue to hurt them. Then removing all forms of recourse.  Let's see, we have the tort reform bill, the budget repair bill, and now the budget.  Which working group is next? 

If this sounds eerily like our Chinese brethren, you're right.  Welcome to Wisconsin, America's China.

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