It's beginning to look as though the state of Wisconsin is becoming a national model for the old adage, "you get what you pay for."
During last November's gubernatorial election, Scott Walker campaigned feverishly on how he had saved Wisconsin taxpayers billions of dollars in tax cuts during his eight years in office. He didn't explain how he accomplished that great feat, but let's review.
He and his Republican colleagues reduced state employees' and teachers' take-home pay, slapped restrictions on what taxes local governments and school boards could raise, significantly cut aid to higher education and chiseled away at the State Department of Natural Resources' conservation and environmental programs.
So, yes, Walker and his crew did manage to lower taxes, especially to corporations and their rural cousins, the huge farm conglomerates. Some no longer pay state taxes at all.
But, now we're just beginning to see the results. Wisconsin, which for decades had been among the top 10 in the country for its transportation infrastructure, its schools, its university system and, with the likes of Democrats like Gaylord Nelson and Republicans like Warren Knowles leading the way, its stewardship of its natural resources.
Alas, not so much anymore. The news about our state hasn't been so good.
A national survey released in late April showed that while other states began to increase state funding for higher education as the economy improved after the Great Recession, Wisconsin dropped its support from 2013 to 2018. Only three other states — Oklahoma, West Virginia and Mississippi — did worse. That's awfully short-slighted when you consider that the university system is Wisconsin's biggest economic engine.
The report also shows that under Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature, Wisconsin's per-student spending fell from $7,002 to $6,435 in the same period, far below the $7,800-per-student national average.
That report was followed by another that told of years-long delays for setting pollution standards to protect the public from contaminated ground water. The pollution standards were set back in 1984, but it typically takes about 10 years to create enforceable limits on hazardous pesticides and other groundwater contaminants.
The process is then updated continuously, except that during the Walker administrations, everything ground to a halt because of budget and personnel cutbacks. Consequently, the state is now lagging behind its obligation to protect water sources. The unfortunate fact has been evidenced by a huge increase in contaminated wells throughout the state and the deteriorating conditions of some of the lakes and streams.
For a state that relies heavily on its robust tourism industry, reports like this aren't helpful.
And let's not forget the incredible deterioration of our transportation system over the past decade, while the can was kicked down the street so our former governor could use it as an example of how he saved taxpayers money. Unfortunately, future generations will be making that up for years.
Yes, we can be a low-taxed state, but at what cost? A second-rate education system? Inferior roads? Poor water quality? Those factors are likely to chase business away rather than attract it as the GOP claims low taxes do.
People want to be proud of their state, not ashamed of it.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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