Scott "Boss Tweed" Walker: He seen his opportunity costs, and he took 'em | WisCommunity

Scott "Boss Tweed" Walker: He seen his opportunity costs, and he took 'em

[img_assist|nid=58789|title=You want some of this?|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=144|height=161]We've spent much time in past blogs documenting how the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Politifact feature often can't see the forest for the trees, nitpicking statements by Democrats in what seems a failing effort to balance the typically more outrageous yet often obtuse truth-stretching of Republicans. Today in another such installment, the progressive activist group We Are Wisconsin gets a "false" for saying that Gov. Scott Walker "took away $1.6 billion from schools and handed it off as over $2 billion in tax breaks to the rich."

We're not going to get far into Politifact's parsing of this statement, which can be dissected several ways (mostly, Politifact seems preoccupied with noting that the tax breaks add up over a decade, whereas the school aid cuts are by some measures smaller than $1.6 billion and, theoretically at least, are a one-time, two-year amount -- as if Walker wouldn't do it over and over, given the chance in future budgets).

A bigger problem is the way the Politifact views public spending and budgets, which mostly follows the Walker campaign spin.

First, Politifact (like the Journal Sentinel editorial board) continues to regard cuts in state aids to local school districts as "savings," which is the way Walker views them. Well, on paper, they may indeed save money, but only by undercutting the budgets of most every public school district in the state.

If you give a donation to your church every Sunday and then suddenly stop, you can accurately record a "savings" in your own household budget, but your church doesn't save anything -- it's in fact poorer, all else being equal. It would be more descriptively accurate to call what Walker engineered a redistribution, because the costs are mostly still there in the school districts, and still going to come out of someone's pockiet, whether that's local taxpayers or school teachers who are socked with huge salary givebacks. And, it's an upward redistribution, from people and institutions having less, to interest groups that already have more.

Second, Poltifact tries to dismiss some rather basic economic theory. It writes, in this morning's ruling:

The changes aren’t a cost to taxpayers in the normal sense, because the tax breaks mean less will be paid in taxes. (In other words: How can money not paid by taxpayers also cost taxpayers?) But we noted the changes will bring an estimated $2.3 billion less in revenue over a 10-year period, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau...

Well, as we said above, the Walker maneuvers amount to a redistribution shell game. Money no longer paid by taxpayers to the state certainly can still cost state taxpayers, through loss of services, tax hikes at other levels of government, or both. Meanwhile, the state will have far less revenue as a result of the tax breaks, and that, according to classic economics, represents an "opportunity cost." One that Walker hasn't paid for, since he kicked the can down the road in refinancing state debt while enacting the single largest state budget in history.

That's right: Mr. Fiscal Conservative is in actuality a big spender who leaves credit card bills for his successors. Just like many modern Republicans, he's a borrow-and-spender who likes to cut social programs and spend -- yes, spend -- more on tax cuts for wealthy special interests. He took that huge "savings" in state school aid spending and applied it to other programs and to tax cuts. The opportunity to benefit public education was greatly diminished; the opportunity to benefit Walker's special interest pals was greatly enhanced. To paraphrase Boss Tweed: Walker seen his opportunity cost, and he took it.

Conservatives like to pretend that cutting spending is always a savings, while cutting taxes is always somehow a revenue enhancer. That was the basis of Reaganomics, long since discredited. Reagan indeed ended up having to raise taxes several times before he left office, because the ideology didn't pay off, resulting in then-record federal deficits.

Beyond that, if you cut spending on things that really matter to Wisconsin, like quality education or job retraining or environmental protection, there are dollar costs and quality of life costs to be paid as a result. The former are hidden in future budgets yet to be written; the latter are never tallied in any budget spreadsheet.

What is the cost of more heavy metals in the air you breathe or the water you drink? What are the costs of having a less-educated, less well-trained populace? These are hidden costs, but they are quite real. Walker's cuts produce quite real effects, mostly negative; his business tax cuts produce narrowly beneficial effects, but cost taxpayers in other ways.

In short, Walker knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

State balance sheets show little or none of this budget finagling, but for average taxpayers it's just like deferred maintenance on your car: You can pay the repairman to maintain your car now, or you can pay him a lot more to fix it later.

Walker's budget reduces opportunity for many state residents, especially students, the elderly, the infirm and much of the middle class including hundreds of thousands of public-employee households. It increases opportunity for a small sliver of individuals and corporations that are already doing better than average.

There's your set of opportunity costs. Now we voters have an opportunity to get rid of Gov. Opportunist, and we'd better damn well do it on June 5. You can pay for it now, or you can pay for it later. Best to pay it forward.


June 1, 2012 - 9:53am