A shot of budget reality
After all these months, what was in the final state budget and what wasnít in it showed the contempt of legislators for whatís really important to the people of Wisconsin.
An absurd provision slipped into the budget without any debate at all symbolized what politicians really cared aboutópaying off lobbyists who would fill their campaign coffers.
That was the outrageous provision to allow grocery stores to serve up to three free shots of hard liquor to their shoppers. Hey, weary shoppers need something to wash down those free samples of sausage on toothpicks, donít they?
That secret budget provision came to lightóand was promptly vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyleóbefore hordes of enthusiastic Wisconsinites could begin caravanning from store to store, shopping ítil they dropped.
The most ridiculous part of the embarrassing budget provision was that lawmakers claimed to have no idea who inserted grocery store Happy Hours into the budget.
That simply cannot be true. We know that proper credit already has to be circulating in Madison. How else would lobbyists for the Distilled Spirits Council know where to send their bags of money in campaign contributions?
Despite all those pious speeches about fighting for the people of Wisconsin in this budget, we now know the real concern of the Legislature was to continue selling democracy out the back door of the Capitol to industry lobbyists.
Just as revealing as what was included in the budget was what was not included.
Jettisoned at the insistence of Assembly Republicans was health care for poor people. Never mind that it would have brought more than half a billion dollars in new federal funds to the state.
At the same time Republicans in Congress were voting against health care for poor children, Wisconsin Republicans were voting against health care for poor adults.
Republican legislators claimed their opposition had something to do with opposing taxes, but that cover story was an out-and-out fraud.
The hospital tax, supported by the Wisconsin Hospital Association, would have raised about $418 million from state hospitals. But it would have paid that back to themóand moreóby bringing $575 million in new federal funds to increase how much hospitals receive for treating poor people on Medicaid.
The only thing hospitals had to do to receive more money than they paid in taxes was to increase the number of poor people they treated. Thatís known as a win-win. Hospitals would do well by doing good.
So, what possible reason could Republicans have for opposing a proposal that would bring nearly $600 million in new federal funds into Wisconsin to expand health care for the poor?
There must just be something about poor people they donít like.
Actually, itís not just health care for poor people Republicans oppose. Theyíre opposed to health care for all the rest of us, too.
Assembly Republicans also refused to consider Healthy Wisconsin, a revolutionary health reform bill passed by the state Senate that would have provided universal health care for everyone in the state.
Once again, we had to listen to Republicans give long-winded speeches against what they called the largest tax increase in state history to pay for universal health care.
Once again, the anti-tax argument was completely fraudulent.
Itís true that universal health care, under Healthy Wisconsin, would have been funded by $15.2 billion a year in payroll taxes. But itís also true that eye-popping figure is $2 billion less than we now pay for less health care.
Thatís not a tax increase. Thatís a $2 billion cut in the cost of health care. True fiscal conservatives would embrace universal health coverage at less cost. In fact, a national health reform lobby representing large, conservative corporations has begun advocating universal health care with many of the same provisions as Healthy Wisconsin.
Wisconsin voters really do want legislators to deal with major issues of importance to all of us such as health care reform. But, first, we have to rid ourselves of small-minded pols who are more interested in doing shots in grocery stores.