Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has a plan for our nearly billion dollar tax surplus: give everyone in the state, even the wealthy, a quite modest tax cut. Which means, in real terms, that the richest in the state, the top 20%, will receive the largest percentage of the tax cut. This will no doubt help the suburbs achieve just a little more prosperity. Rural and inner-city folk, however, will get just enough back to remain economically depressed.
Where did Walker get this plan? Apparently he wandered Wisconsin and found only suburban Republicans and “tea party” conservatives to talk to:
“When I travel the state, people don’t tell me that they want to keep sending more money to Madison. They don’t tell me that taxes are too low or even that taxes are just right. Overwhelmingly, people across the state tell me that one of the best ways to fuel the economic recovery is to reduce their tax burden.”
So thanks to cutting back on public services and public schools, and thanks to a slowly improving national economy, Wisconsin has collected a lot of money– a billion dollar pot– which could be invested back into schools and the communities that need help the most. Our tax money does not stay in Madison; it goes out across the state, ideally, to serve the greater good. But our governor prefers to just send the money back in the mail. This defeats the whole notion of what taxes are supposed to be about– create a large public fund for running the state and targeted improvements of the commonwealth.
So if we really want to “fuel the economic recovery” of depressed communities, the state should be directly investing, with local collaboration, in public and local private enterprises to create good work and increase the quality of public infrastructure. Milwaukee’s Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Willie Hines sent a letter to Gov. Walker asking for a little of the state’s tax windfall, some of which (foreclosure cash) rightfully belongs to the city. Surely other cities and rural towns could also use a large chunk of state money for community improvement. For while tax cuts may put a little more spending money in the pockets of individuals, that money may be banked or sent far away to China or India. It will do little to fuel anything except cars and oil corporations.
If our governor is really interested in getting money into the pockets of people and local businesses, he should support a truly progressive tax cut (wealthy pay much more, the middle class and the poor pay much less or zero) and/or a significant raise in the minimum wage. Republican tax-cutting amounts to public relations for the sake of elections and it tends to benefit the rich, but that strategy has hopefully run its course. Why rural Wisconsinites continue to support conservative policies that harm rural life and our land and water is hard to fathom. Even some Republican senators in the state Legislature are not sure they want to go along with Walker’s rebate scheme.
We know why our wealthy suburban population mostly supports Gov. Walker and Republicans in general: they get rewarded for doing so. And the money flows back by way of campaign contributions. But it’s time for “Dairyland” to make sure Gov. Walker and Madison Republicans clearly understand that Wisconsin wants a far better, more common prosperity than the very limited one our state government now serves.
UPDATE (1/29): For more on how the wealthier parts of Wisconsin control state politics to the detriment of our rural citizens, see this important op-ed by Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, via The Capital Times.