Van Hollen wants to soak taxpayers $40-million

You didn't read that headline anywhere but here.

It's what you might have expected on the Journal Sentinel story about Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's proposal to hire 31 new analysts to get rid of a crime lab backlog in DNA testing -- or at least what you might have expected if the newspaper handled it the same way it maligned Gov. Jim Doyle's proposal for the Stewardship Fund.

The Doyle featured the most loaded lead paragraph even the JS has managed in a long time:

Gov. Jim Doyle's proposal to provide more funding for a state land purchase program will heap an estimated $1.6 billion in new costs on taxpayers in the next 10 years of the initiative.

If you read carefully you will conclude that the $1.6-billion isn't all new spending; the program, which preserves valuable open space, recreational land, and wildlife habitat before it is gobbled up by developers, already costs perhaps half that at its current rate of spending.

True, the program was scheduled to expire in 2010, but no one expected it to end then. It's a program started by then-Gov. Gaylord Nelson in the early 1960s and continued by Warren Knowles, a Republican governor, when it was due to expire. It has always been renewed with bipartisan support, and is undoubtedly going to be renewed yet again. The only question is how much money the state will spend on it.

That's also the question when discussing the crime lab backlog: Not whether the state will spend any money on it, but how much it will spend. Doyle's budget proposed hiring 15 new analysts; Van Hollen wants twice that many, which he says would eliminate the DNA test backlog by the end of 2010 -- right when he's running for reelection and might be reminded of his promises in 2006 to end the backlog.

No matter that he said then that he would outsource the testing. Now he's had a done, has proclaimed himself an expert, and reversed field. His plan would "heap" $7.7-million in additional spending onto the backs of taxpayers in the next two years. Over 10 years, assuming some inflation, $40-million is probably a low estimate. But we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Legislative Republicans, who have reacted negatively to every Doyle spending proposal -- "we just don't know where he thinks the money is going to come from," they say -- reacted just the opposite to Republican Van Hollen's proposal. They're just tickled to throw some money at this problem -- the more the merrier, it seems.

Led by State Rep. Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson, co-chair of Joint Finance, they're falling all over themselves to try to get a separate bill drafted that they can fast-track, without waiting for the budget. Because it's an "anti-crime" measure, they think Dems will be afraid to vote against it. And they may be right.

It's just one more instance of ye olde double standard -- both in the State Capitol and in the state's largest newspaper. Unfortunately, neither is a surprise.


February 18, 2007 - 7:16pm