What is to be done with the projected $900 million surplus that seems to be burning a hole in the pockets of the Wisconsin State Legislature?
No matter who the press talks with under the statehouse dome there seems to be a number of ways to spend the money. Since 2014 is an election year there also seems to be more than a fair share of making any use of the money match with potential votes come next November.
While some argue tax cuts of one variety or another best serve the state, others advocate for more education spending, still others urge for job creation programs. As a liberal Democrat I would very much like to see schools benefit from the surplus, or for more funds to be placed into health care programs. At the end of the day there is always a variety of ways that money can be spent. That is, after all, one of the easiest parts about governing.
But among the respondents concerning the surplus I was struck by two sober-minded Republican thinkers who are taking a more long-range and realistic approach to how the surplus might be dealt with.
I was pleased last week when reading the Wisconsin State Journal about how State Senator Luther Olsen did not jump on the easy GOP talking-point train over tax cuts, but instead offered a more logical response to the surplus question.
“I would like the longer view, but I think there’s an election coming up and the longest view we can look at is the first Tuesday in November,” Olsen said. “If you look at what happened in 1999 we cut taxes a lot and then in 2000 there was a recession. We have to be careful because there will be another recession.”
Not wishing to make policy decisions based on upcoming elections always meets with my approval. I come from the school of thinking that good policy will create favorable conditions all by themselves come election time.
But Olsen was not the only one to look down the road and ponder bigger questions when it comes to state finances and what impact the surplus might provide.
State Sen. Dale Schultz said in his conversations with about 200 constituents over the past week since the surplus was announced, he hasn’t heard anyone clamoring for more tax cuts.
“‘Don’t you see through these election year tricks? We just want you to balance the budget,’” Schultz said in summarizing what he’s heard from voters. “I’m looking for a serious plan to get rid of the structural deficit.”
If we are smart we will look beyond the easy politically driven tax-cut approach to the surplus and use the funds in a way that will allow for our next budget cycle to be free of what everyone recognizes to contain a structural deficit. In addition like all of us who look ahead to make sure monies are available should the roof or computer need replacing the state too should sock away surplus dollars in the rainy day fund.
This is not the first surplus when a governor and legislature got all giddy, or when the monies were all given out in one fashion or another. No one can see the future, and while we all want tomorrow to be bright we have to be grounded in reality when making such big policy choices. It would be the wisest move of all if this legislature were to heed the advice of Olsen and Schultz as it would allow for the most rational use of the surplus.