The old adage, "you get what you pay for" — aimed as a warning that doing things on the cheap doesn't always work out — applies to government as much as it does to individuals.
Any state, for example, can have extremely low taxes if its citizenry is willing to put up with inferior schools, bad transportation infrastructure and spotty services in everything from law enforcement to environmental protections.
Kansas found that out in spades a few years back when its governor, the far-right Sam Brownback, cut taxes so much that the state's school system imploded.
That's always been my gripe with the right wing of Wisconsin's Republican Party that, under Scott Walker, controlled the governor's office for eight years and still has command of the state Legislature for at least another two.
Their emphasis has never been on enacting programs and setting policy that could have helped the state be a national leader as it had been for most of the last century. Instead, it was always about the bottom line, reducing business taxes, cutting the pay of state workers and teachers, making the University of Wisconsin make do with less and pushing highway maintenance into the future.
It has never been about helping the little guy by expanding health care coverage even if the federal government would pay for it or, for heaven's sake, even considering raising the minimum wage from its embarrassing $7.25 an hour in a time when many of our neighboring states are nearly double that. State help for Milwaukee's inner city is lagging. Wisconsin's wages, thanks in part to a war on unions, is below the national average.
So now we live in what I call a ho-hum state. Our big businesses get most of what they want — more loopholes, lax regulation, income tax credits. As a result, we've fallen from the days we were once called a "shining star" among state governments to just another member of the pack.
It's been documented in several studies that compile and measure state statistics from the condition of roads to the ability to attract qualified teachers. And just the other day, another report revealed the incredible disparity between our state and Minnesota in producing climate-friendly alternative energy.
Last Sunday, a Wisconsin State Journal story included data from the Solar Energy Industries Association that shows Wisconsin in 2010 was producing three times as much power from solar panels as neighboring Minnesota.
But today, just 10 years later, Minnesota has crushed Wisconsin even worse than the Badgers beat the Gophers in their Big Ten football showdown in November. Minnesota, a state remarkably similar to Wisconsin in everything from population to geography, now generates nearly 22% of its energy from solar and wind while Wisconsin is lucky to be hitting 3%.
That's a result of a governor and Legislature ignoring the future and coddling the status quo to protect special interests and lower their taxes.
Instead of working to help Wisconsin's citizens embrace the future and its job opportunities, we have legislators introducing bills to mandate our kids learn cursive and our university students refrain from being too loud when some bigoted speaker spews his venom.
Wisconsin did succeed in getting rid of Scott Walker — at least for now. But a new governor with a Legislature that continues to thumb its nose while the rest of the country passes by can't do it alone.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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