Wisconsin’s new normalFor four months, the nation watched as public workers, students and union members, reacting to Scott Walker’s budget, took to the streets of Madison. It might be tempting to think that a revolution of sorts was in the works. I hate to burst a perfectly good story, but this was hardly a revolution
By: By George Lightbourn, Superior Telegram
For four months, the nation watched as public workers, students and union members, reacting to Scott Walker’s budget, took to the streets of Madison. It might be tempting to think that a
revolution of sorts was in the works. I hate to burst a perfectly good story, but this was hardly a revolution. If we look past the marchers and their claims of lost rights, we will find what really
The true story is that Scott Walker has established a new normal for Wisconsin. For starters, there will be no more deferring to the status quo. No longer will politicians automatically assume that more school spending will enhance student performance; more regulation by itself makes our air and water cleaner or that incarcerating more criminals makes us safer.
Second, there is a new standard by which we measure success in government. Whereas past governors boasted about expensive, visionary programs, it is now OK for a governor to say, “I produced a balanced budget.”
In writing for WPRI, Stephen Goldsmith noted that we are emerging from an era where political leaders believe that no problem is too complex or too costly for government to address. Walker made it possible to understand the fiscal realities, and therefore the limitations, of government.
Third, the new normal restores a healthy
relationship between government and business. These two sectors cannot be at war. If they are at war, they both lose. Under Democratic
leadership, Wisconsin was known to punish
successful businesses via higher taxes and fees. No more.
Finally, and perhaps most important, value is now front and center in the lexicon of
government. Now that we recognize the scarcity of public dollars, future Wisconsin state budgets will demand that programs demonstrate they are productive before elected leaders will
contemplate adding dollars.
The noisy defenders of the status quo — human vuvuzelas — would have us believe that Walker’s budget is the beginning of the end. The truth is much less dramatic. Scott Walker has simply reset the expectations of government, harkening to a simpler time when budgets balanced and
political leaders spent money as though it was coming out of their own wallet.
Yes, most public sector collective bargaining is a thing of the past. Again, the defenders of the status quo would have us believe that there must be a thrilling, nefarious back story to Walker’s
action. The reality is that unionization and civil service provided expensive, duplicative employee protection that no longer makes economic sense.
Walker has ushered in a new, restrained era for state government. It will be an era of less flash and more competence. The budget he signed raises spending by just 1.8 percent over two years and will actually leave a $306 million surplus for the following two-year budget. This is a departure for Wisconsin where, for more than a decade, state government routinely and knowingly passed budgets with huge deficits. A more astonishing
indicator of Wisconsin’s new normal occurred when the State Senate, including the 14 members who left Wisconsin in an attempt to forestall Walker’s collective bargaining bill, unanimously agreed to use unanticipated tax revenue to pay some old bills rather than spending it on new or expanded programs. None of these things would have been possible just a year ago.
Welcome to Wisconsin’s new normal.
George Lightbourn is the president of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.