State Views: Let's direct surplus toward job creation

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Rep. Debra Kolste
Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gov. Scott Walker outlined plans Wednesday for the budget surplus, which include income tax and property tax cuts. The typical family may save $150, and the total tax cut will be $504 million.

Tax relief is a good thing as part of an overall economic plan, and it may be the only option presented to the Legislature. Putting money in the hands of working families and the middle class should help local and state economies. But we could do better.

A growing economy allowed the state to collect $912 million above projections to provide the tax cuts. But our economic growth has not produced many new jobs. Wisconsin trails neighboring states and the nation in job creation. A jobless recovery isn't much of a recovery.

Like Wisconsin, many states have collected increased revenues and have budget surpluses. Wisconsin only really stands out for its failure to add new jobs.

We could improve on the governor's proposal by targeting more of the surplus to job creation, paying down some of Wisconsin's debt, restoring cuts to necessary programs and taking care not to inflate the state's structural deficit.

The governor's plan unwisely increases the structural deficit to more than $800 million in 2015. We have been down this road. If the economy grows, we will cover the deficit projected for the next budget. If we have a downturn, we get severe budget cuts and accounting gimmicks.

Earlier, Gov. Walker achieved the illusion of a balanced budget by borrowing and by diverting one-time money. His tax cuts went to corporations and the wealthy and were funded by slashing public schools, higher education and technical education. He actually raised taxes on the poor by changing the Earned Income Tax Credit and Homestead Tax Credit.

The cuts to the educational infrastructure of our state, especially in the public K-12 schools, cost us jobs. Real growth doesn't come to places with compromised educational systems. The money removed from the paychecks of teachers had a direct impact on local economies.

The 2011-13 budget cut shared revenues to municipal governments by $48 million, and the cut was the third in a decade. Municipal governments have cut police and fire services, reduced public transit and postponed street maintenance. Fixing streets and bridges creates jobs. Visible decay kills jobs.

We could have doubled the projected budget surplus by accepting federal health care funds that truly belong to Wisconsin taxpayers. We sacrificed thousands of jobs in medical fields. We denied health care access to many and made enrolling in the new health care exchanges harder. We can still correct that error.

Finally, Gov. Walker did not address redistricting reform. Redistricting reform would return political power to the voters where it belongs. Our elections would be competitive.

Partisan redistricting has killed moderation and compromise. Why compromise if your district has been gerrymandered to ensure your election?

Our state needs and deserves a better, more moderate and more thoughtful Legislature. Gov. Walker should have acknowledged that in his State of the State message.

Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, represents the 44th Assembly District. Readers can contact her at P.O. Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708; phone 888-947-0044; email Rep.Kolste@legis.Wisconsin.gov.

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