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Big fish splash in political waters

Matt Pommr

Paul Ryan is a very big fish in a very large pond. Scott Walker also is a big fish, but his home pond is a lot smaller, and the water is not as clear.

That was clear in the final political maneuvers of 2013.

Ryan, Wisconsin’s 1st District Republican congressman from Janesville, worked with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to fashion a “mini” bipartisan budget deal that won approval of Congress and President Obama. The two chair the budget committees of their respective congressional houses.

Both Ryan and Murray won widespread media praise for the deal. Ryan got most of the praise because he had to deal with Tea Party conservatives in the House Republican ranks. It stepped up speculation that Ryan could be the GOP presidential candidate in 2016.

Walker seems to have presidential ambitions, having spent a lot of time in the last two years traveling across America to talk to conservative political groups. His ambitions also hinge on getting another four-year term as governor in the 2014 election.

His national ambitions are reflected in his refusal to promise to serve the full four years of a second term.

While Ryan was getting national attention in the big federal political pond, Walker was trying to make a splash in state politics. He said he would consider the idea of ending the Wisconsin income tax. He floated the idea as 2013 tax forms were being prepared for mailing.

In 2011, Wisconsin citizens paid $6.4 billion in personal income tax. That year, nearly 4,000 persons with adjusted gross income of over $1 million each paid nearly $736 million, or 11.5 percent, of that total, according to Department of Revenue statistics.

The personal income tax seems far too large to be eliminated unless other revenue streams, such as the sales tax, are dramatically increased. Giving a few thousand millionaires a $735-million tax break might be a tough political sell.

Another scenario suggests Walker will end up suggesting the corporate income tax, which runs in the neighborhood of $600 million, be eliminated. Raising the sales tax by a penny could make that goal reachable.

As the New Year begins, Walker will be pressed on whether he wants to eliminate the huge personal income tax or perhaps just the corporate income tax.

Thinking big ideas isn’t new for Walker. In 2010 he promised to create 250,000 new jobs in Wisconsin in his first term. It will take a remarkable economic boom for him to fulfill that political promise. The latest figures show Wisconsin ranked 37th among the states in job growth.

He could argue that eliminating business taxes would help create jobs in Wisconsin. The governor has contended that lagging job growth should be blamed on “union bosses” who sought his recall after he and the Republican-controlled Legislature maimed public employee unions.

That action made him the darling of Tea Party conservatives, helping to start the talk about Walker becoming president or vice president in 2016.

Ryan was the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2012. He lost, but under Wisconsin election law was able to run and win to keep his congressional seat. In Washington, the media credit him as one of the brightest Republican thinkers.

His national name recognition, his Budget Committee chair, and the new bipartisan budget deal guarantee him a chance for national office. His friends downplay the presidential talk, saying Ryan might prefer to eventually seek to be speaker of the House of Representatives.

The House also is a very big pond in American politics.

Matt Pommer, a retired reporter for The Capital Times, writes a column distributed by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.