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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Assembly Candidate Weighs In on Budget

Very good points are made in this letter to
Wausau Daily Herald Editor by former Assembly candidate, Jim Mass:

Column: Better ways to cut the budget

It isn't even spring yet and already
I am already thinking back fondly
 to those "good old days" of 2010
 when we were simply disgusted
with the petty partisan bickering down in Madison. Gov. Scott Walker
sure found a way to bring
people together, tens of thousands at a time. Whodathunk?
As an Assembly candidate,
I became familiar with how badly the state government,
faced with declining revenues,
has goofed up state finances
over the past decade.
Maybe I should have run for governor instead!
There are no quick, simple, painless ways
to fix the budget.
"Governor Maas" would have
invited in some number-crunchers
 and concerned parties for a
comprehensive review of the system
of financing and delivering state
services in order to get spending
down less than revenues.
Assembly candidates get dozens of
questionnaires from various
groups about how we would deal with
some of their concerns so they could
decide how to advise members and supporters.
Not being a professional politician,
I answered questionnaires truthfully.
My advice to the WEAC and AFSCME unions
(I am a retired AFSCME member and former teacher)
 was to be proactive in a recession and budget crisis
with willingness to renegotiate contracts for less compensation, but maintain the employment of their members
(and therefore, their dues).
I did not receive their endorsements
or campaign donations.
Still, Gov. Maas would not have
threatened the compensation of
local employees to fix the state budget.
That is because
-- they are not state employees!
Local taxpayers, if they care, are in a much better position to determine
what to do about their local public employees than politicians in Madison. If Walker was
sincere about public employees being the state's
"partners in economic development," he could
first try requesting collaboration on concessions
rather than demanding them.
The "big four" areas of bureaucratic state
spending are school aids, medical assistance,
the UW System and corrections programs.
Downsizing is necessary but must be done
carefully to avoid unintended consequences.
Wisconsin spends twice as much as Minnesota
on corrections ($1.1 billion), and incarcerates
13,000 more prisoners. Are Wisconsinites really
worse than Minnesotans? Corrections spending
has grown more than 2.5 times as much as other
expenditures since 1990 while support for higher
 education has decreased 6 percent. That means
 taxpayers must support more prisoners while
more education costs must be borne by students
 and their parents.
To adjust the corrections overspending,
Wisconsin needs to reform our laws
and sentencing guidelines. It gets
complicated, so thoughtful, careful,
coordinated action is called for to
address escalating costs.
That could free up resources to help deal
with the other budget problems.
Unfortunately, Walker's plan includes elimination
 of the incentive for good behavior of
early release of nonviolent prisoners.
It costs nothing and saves money.
Instead, Wisconsin might face cuts
in public services while bearing increased
 costs for corrections. Perhaps when
Walker talks about growing jobs, he
has the prison industry in mind.
Wisconsin is faced with a ham-fisted
power grab from Madison and public
union leadership that looks out for
itself rather than the workers and
the citizens they serve.
I had hoped for something more.
Jim Maas is vice chairman
of the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin.

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