On Wisconsin ... But not with Scott Walker in charge
By Peter Fenn - 02/23/11 02:12 PM ET
Has he no sense of balance? Does he not know how to actually get things done? Does he not understand what he is creating in Wisconsin?
At various times in history, politicians are elected who don’t know how to govern.
Scott Walker seems to care more about hardcore ideology, breaking the unions and cozying up to the multi-multi-billionaire Koch brothers, than doing what is best for Wisconsin.
A lot of these “new” leaders claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan, voted recently in this year of his 100th birth, as the most popular president. Strangely, they have bought into the myth of Reagan as the no-tax, anti-government executive, and they justify much of what they do with that in mind. Big mistake.
As his biographer Lou Cannon makes clear, despite the hard rhetoric, Reagan was quite pragmatic. He raised taxes a whopping 18 percent, $1 billion a year when he became governor of California, to deal with the state’s deficit. In today’s dollars that is over $4 billion. He raised income taxes from 7 to 10 percent, sales taxes from 3 to 5 percent, tripled cigarette taxes, raised bank and corporate taxes from 5.5 percent to 7 percent and even raised the inheritance taxes (hmm, “death taxes!”). As president, Reagan raised taxes in six of the eight years of his presidency, 11 times.
Under Reagan, tax revenue as a percentage of GDP was 18.2 as opposed to a 40-year average of 18.1 — little difference. Federal spending was 22.4 percent of GDP under President Reagan, as opposed to 20.7 for the 40-year average. So much for reducing government. To be fair, part of that gap was defense spending, but the point remains the same. Reagan did what needed to be done as he saw it to keep the ship of state balanced.
Gov. Walker, on the other hand, signed into law $122 million in tax cuts when deficits were looming. He could argue that prospective tax cuts to lure businesses to Wisconsin make sense, but nearly half the total amount went for health savings accounts, a nice boon for the wealthy that doesn’t create jobs.
His big problem, of course, is not that he has asked public employees to sacrifice. And they have, agreeing to new contributions to their pensions of 5.8 percent of salary and a doubling of healthcare premiums. Walker’s problem is that he wants to bust the ability of the teachers and others to collectively bargain down the road.
There is no balance here, no shared sacrifice, no tendency toward “solving the problem” on the part of Walker. Voters by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (61-33 percent) do not favor taking away collective bargaining rights, according to a USA Today poll.
Walker’s threats of calling out the National Guard and laying off teachers, guards, police or firefighters do not endear him to voters either. Being perceived as strong gets you a few polling points initially, but when people get the substance, they will turn against Walker.
Other governors should beware, and be aware, that the Walker model is not the Reagan model. It is time for him to put away the long knives and to govern. After all, that is what the people of Wisconsin elected him to do.