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Dead in Wisconsin'

Todd Berry, president of the Taxpayers Alliance, spoke during a conference Wednesday (January 19, 2005) at the Monona Terrace in Madison.

By Rich Eggleston
Partners for Wisconsin

A Colorado-style TABOR "has been dead for six months in Wisconsin," Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, told a conference on government spending limits sponsored by the UW La Follette School of Public Affairs.

"And if you doubt me, try to find a majority in either house of the Legislature," Berry said.

But that doesn't mean a TABOR that doesn't perform the shenanigans that TABOR has performed in Colorado won't receive serious debate in the Legislature.

Former state revenue secretary Rick Chandler, now a consultant to the Wisconsin Realtors Association, called for "reasonable, sensible, workable spending limits tied to personal income growth."

Chandler said such a constitutional amendment could provide for continued quality public services at a price the public could afford.

But Iris Lav of the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities in Washington, D.C., said Wisconsin really needs a rainy-day fund, and enacting a TABOR to get one was "taking a sledge hammer to swat a fly."

Tom Hefty, former CEO of Cobalt Corp., the parent company of Blue Cross-Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, said Medicaid reform is the "missing link" in bringing Wisconsin's taxes into line with other states.

Medicaid is the biggest chunk of federal money that goes to states, and just to get to average in federal aid to state and local government would require an infusion of $1.4 billion a year, he said. Only half of Wisconsin's school districts bill for Medicaid services, Hefty added.

Prof. Don Nichols, director of the La Follette School, said he wasn't shocked by the notion that taxes in Wisconsin this year set a record.

"In a balanced, growing economy, everything should set a record every year...including taxes," he said. "Of course they're a record. Output is a record, taxes are a record."

He added that taxes have been relatively flat in Wisconsin — they take relatively the same share of our income today than they did many years ago.

"We don't have runaway government; we don't have runaway taxes," Nichols said.

However, it was Berry, on the conference's agenda as a "discussant," who had a corner on pithy remarks to the conference at Madison's Monona Terrace. Other samples:

  • "If you mention 'toll road' in Wisconsin [toll roads are a hot subject of discussion in Colorado], people turn five shades of purple and orange."

  • When the state went to two-thirds funding of schools, school districts "figured out the state was running a sale on school buildings, so they stocked up."

  • "Local government doesn't hold many of the cards" in the taxes and spending debate. "They're dependent of state fiscal policymaking, if you can call it that."

  • "This state has more paved roads per capita than all but five states in the nation;" and

  • "I have a hard time justifying sending aid to communities with incredible tax bases."

Posted January 21, 2005

At the Capitol News Archives