Ungranted Wishes

The other day the Wisconsin Legislature’s budget-writing committee stripped nearly 400 items proposed by the governor out of the state’s fiscal plan for the next two years. In so doing, the Joint Finance Committee blew a three-and-a-half-billion-dollar hole in the budget.

Republicans who control the committee call the items a “liberal wish list.” The items reflect Wisconsin’s wishes, not those of liberals alone. More than two-thirds of Wisconsin residents want the state to take available federal funds to expand access to health insurance coverage under Medicaid, known here as BadgerCare.

Our state stands to gain $1.6 billion in federal funds to insure close to 100,000 additional people. Accepting this federal money also would reduce Wisconsin taxpayers’ share of the cost of the BadgerCare program. The Republican-led finance committee voted to turn down the federal funds and reject BadgerCare expansion. If this decision stands, state taxpayers will pay more to insure far fewer people.

Majorities nearly as large as those supporting BadgerCare expansion also favor raising the state minimum wage. Those in charge of the finance committee removed the proposed minimum wage increase from the budget. Similar majorities in Wisconsin favor legalizing marijuana. Wisconsin stood to gain $165 million a year by taxing legal sales. The finance committee took that out of the budget, too.

The people of Wisconsin also want fair taxation, they want the richest among us to pay their fair share. When you total up all the state and local taxes we all pay, the wealthiest 1% pay the lowest overall tax rate. The reason for that is earned wages are taxed at a higher rate in Wisconsin than unearned income like capital gains and inheritances.

There were proposals in the budget to do something about this injustice. An obscure tax break known as MAC benefiting a few thousand of the richest people in Wisconsin was to be scaled down so the super-wealthy would pay more than $487 million in taxes they are currently escaping. This giveaway’s acronym fits. It’s a loophole big enough to drive a Mack truck through. The finance committee rescued it. Changing current tax policy shielding capital gains from taxation would have brought in $350 million. Republicans in charge of the finance committee nixed that proposal as well.

Those rewriting the state budget are ignoring the wishes of the majority of people in our state to cater to the wealthiest few. If they succeed in the end, fewer people will have health insurance, people working for wages will pay more of the cost of state government, and people who sit on their back sides watching their money make more money will pay less.

There’s still time to change the final outcome. The decisions made in recent days can be reversed. We all have our work cut out for us. We need to keep raising our voices and insisting on budget policies that are fair and just and reflect the wishes of the majority of Wisconsinites.

Budgets are not just financial blueprints. They are moral documents. Wisconsin’s state budget as it stands at the moment is immoral.

Mike McCabe

May 12, 2021