Taxing Stupidity

Congress acted, approving the president’s mammoth Covid relief package, floating a gigantic lifeboat for millions of pandemic-weary Americans. Room was made for folks from Wisconsin in the lifeboat if state lawmakers don’t give away our reserved seats.

A prime example is the money being made available to states to get health insurance coverage for more of their residents. If Wisconsin has the good sense to just say yes, we can get more than $1.6 billion in federal funds to expand our BadgerCare program and get health insurance for nearly 91,000 more people in our state. The money is there for the taking.

Problem is, up to now legislative leaders in Wisconsin have been insistent on refusing to accept federal money for BadgerCare expansion. Wisconsin is one of only 12 states that haven’t taken federal funds to expand eligibility for Medicaid—known here as BadgerCare—as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. The governor included the federal funds for health insurance in his proposed state budget. The Republican state assembly speaker called that proposal a “non-starter.” GOP leaders are calling the idea a “liberal’s dream” and a “liberal wish list.” It’s not just liberals who dream of more people getting insurance coverage with the federal government picking up the tab. More than two-thirds of state residents favor expansion of BadgerCare. This is something that’s on Wisconsin’s wish list.

Because Wisconsin has been refusing to take available federal money that would fund expansion of our BadgerCare program, Wisconsin taxpayers end up paying more in state taxes to insure fewer people. That’s just plain nuts.

If we take the money, more people get health care, taxpayers here in our state pay less of the cost of BadgerCare, and the overall state budget outlook improves. This is a no-brainer. Only thing standing in the way is brainless politics. Petty partisan politics.

If petty partisanship prevails, people here in Wisconsin will end up paying what amounts to a $1.6 billion tax on stupidity. We’ll all pay for the foolishness of the party that’s currently calling the shots in both houses of our state legislature. Available federal funds that could greatly benefit our state will instead be routed to other states to help their people. Wisconsin taxpayers will pay more in state taxes to get fewer people health insurance coverage. And it’s not like any of us here in Wisconsin are going to get a break on our federal taxes because our state turns down its share of federal funding. All that’s going to happen is that other states are going to get richer and Wisconsin is going to get poorer.

State budget hearings are being held next month. State lawmakers need to hear a simple message loud and clear: Take the money! Expand BadgerCare!

Mike McCabe

March 16, 2021