State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
There was some good news from last week’s elections for fiscal conservatives. Voters in Colorado, the architect of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), rejected another effort to weaken protection for taxpayers. The Colorado ballot included Amendment 59, considered by TABOR supporters to have been the most serious attack against the concept.
TABOR was approved as an amendment to the state constitution in Colorado during 1992. Government spending was capped at the previous year’s total multiplied by the rate of inflation plus annual population growth. The beauty of TABOR is that voters need to approve any hikes in tax rates or in state or local debt. Revenues that go beyond the spending caps must be returned to taxpayers through tax reductions.
TABOR was a godsend to taxpayers. Between 1997 and 2002, the state of Colorado issued tax rebates totaling more than $3.2 billion. Colorado was the envy of tax relief proponents and saw its economy take off. TABOR’s opponents have stubbornly tried numerous times to circumvent the measure by supporting tax and spending increases. Referendum C was adopted during 2005 that suspended revenue limits in Colorado for five years. Revenues that have exceeded the TABOR limits are now funding government in Colorado, not tax relief. Revenue limits return in 2010. The latest attempt to water down TABOR was Amendment 59 on the Colorado ballot November 4.
Amendment 59 would have eliminated rebates that taxpayers receive when Colorado collected more money than it is allowed, and spent the money on preschool through 12th (grade (P-12) public education. The amendment also would have eliminated a required inflationary increase for P-12 education spending and would have set aside money in a new savings account for P-12 education.
Opponents of Amendment 59 called it a permanent tax increase, arguing that a requirement to donate a tax rebate to government programs is a net tax increase.
Amendment 59, its opponents claimed, would have freed up general funds currently spent on education, allowing elected officials to spend more taxpayer money on their pet projects. They also emphasized that the amendment would gut the goal of TABOR: Shrinking the role of government in the state’s economy. The fear was that Colorado would return to the days of double-digit spending increases, making balancing the state budget more difficult. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it, Wisconsin?
Amendment 59 was rejected by 55% of Colorado voters and the consensus is that once the suspension on revenue limits is lifted during 2010, Colorado will once again enjoy economic growth.
Under the current political landscape, Wisconsin’s prospects for approving TABOR are next to impossible. I support TABOR, and voted for tough spending limits when the Legislature took up the measure during 2006.
Colorado’s defeat of Amendment 59 signals a return of TABOR to the state that successfully pioneered the idea. TABOR’s reputation and credibility will rebound, and hopefully serve as the stimulus for another proposal here in Wisconsin.
Earlier this week my friend and colleague Representative Jim Ott of Mequon issued this press release.For More Information Contact:
Representative Jim Ott 1-888-534-0023
When the state Legislature reconvenes in January, I plan to re-introduce legislation to create a website that would show all state expenditures. The user-friendly searchable website would be maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA).
Anyone could go to the website and see how the state is spending your money. Legislation that I introduced last session would require that the DOA must ensure that all state agency expenditures are available for inspection. The DOA would categorize expenditure information on the Web site by state agency and expenditure category. Within each category, DOA must show the amount and purpose of each expenditure exceeding $100 and the entity or person receiving your money.
All of the following information relating to state agency grants and contracts would be made available to the general public: a copy of the contract and grant award; the state agency making the grant or entering into the contract; the name and address of the person receiving the grant or entering into the contract; the purpose of the grant or contract; the amount of the grant or the amount the state agency must expend under the contract; and the name of the state fund the grant is paid or moneys are expended under the contract.
There would be frequent updates so the public is aware as quickly as possible about how their tax money is being spent. State agencies would be required to make the information available to the DOA not later than 24 hours after an expenditure is made or an agency makes a grant or enters into a contract.
Several states have already adopted this transparency philosophy called the Google-government trend, a movement that has tremendous benefits for taxpayers. One of the states is the “Show me” state, Missouri that last year created a popular database called the Missouri Accountability Portal (MAP). During May of this year, MAP exceeded six million hits.
Googling state government works. The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) reviewed Missouri’s database and found more than $2.4 million of dubious expenditures during the past eight years. According to the NTU, “The state of Missouri spent $15,482.57 at Ann's Bra Shop from 2000 to 2008 for ‘professional services’ and ‘clothing supplies.’ Over the same period, government employees spent more than $1.6 million at coffee shops, $387,210.14 at framing stores, $278,053.46 at florists and nurseries, and $70,849.02 at donut bakeries.”
Other expenditures discovered by the NTU included $936.75 spent at The Corsage Shop, $232.00 at Doris' Beauty Shop, $1,651.27 at The Jean Shop, $348.70 at the Budget Rose Shop, $6,964.55 at Susie's Bake Shoppe, and $3,803.00 at the Westside Barber Shop. During 2000, $12.00 was spent at Ann's Hair & Nail Shop. Apparently, twelve dollars was the price at the time for a manicure.
If a state government is throwing money around for bras, hair appointments, manicures, flowers, frames, and donuts, I am certain taxpayers would want to know that information. Clearly, having this information readily available would assist legislators making important budget decisions.
A quick and easy Internet clearinghouse would throw a laser beam on government spending, the increased focus having great potential for significant savings. As I researched this legislation, I was told that the Wisconsin data is available and technology is in place that could keep the cost of a transparency website relatively low. Yes, it is definitely time to Google Wisconsin government.
It’s the one governed by Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. According to Moody’s Economy.com, Alaska is the only state immune from falling into recession. The other 49 states are either in a recession (including Wisconsin) or are at risk.
Shortly after the state Legislature reconvenes in January, Governor Doyle will present his State of the State address, followed by his state budget proposal. Given our gloomy economy, it is imperative Wisconsin adopts a lean, fiscally responsible budget without tax increases that would hurt families desperately trying to get by.
Read more about the country’s battle with recession here.