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Walker's Tax-Cut Plan Will Make Pothole Problem Worse

Mar. 5, 2014
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Suddenly, in Milwaukee and across much of the country, one totally mundane, down-to-earth, common-as-dirt topic seems to be crowding out all those contrived controversies politicians usually try to whip up.


Boring as that sounds, it’s a perfect example of exactly what’s wrong with our politics today. And we may need to fix our politics before we can finally fix all those potholes bouncing our brains around in our skulls and wrecking our cars.

Fixing potholes would seem to be the most basic of government services. But everyone has noticed the pothole problem is not only getting worse everywhere, but government seems to be doing a much poorer job of filling them.

Of course, the problem is getting worse. One of our major political parties, the Republicans, publicly deny the overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming so their wealthy industrialist campaign donors won’t be forced to spend any money to reduce carbon emissions.

The irony is the simple-minded ignorance spewed by right-wing talk radio—“Global warming can’t exist. It’s cold today.”—is really proof of just the opposite.

Extreme weather in all forms—drought out west, record cold that never lets up over half our country, tsunamis, floods and other destructive storms wiping out coastal populations around the world—are all evidence of global warming.

Pothole-riddled streets are among the milder results at a time when, politically, it’s becoming much more difficult for local government to carry out its basic functions in Wisconsin.

That’s because government functions require resources, also known as tax money. And our state is now controlled by politicians who have decided they’ll never raise taxes to help local governments provide basic services.


Walker’s Latest Empty Promise

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has become a right-wing hero for making the largest cuts to local education in history, destroying collective bargaining rights and taking a meat axe to the wages and jobs of all public employees and slashing state shared revenue to every local government in the state.

Now Walker says he’ll not only continue cutting state taxes and reducing state assistance to local government, but he’ll also prevent local governments from raising their own taxes to carry out their basic functions.

Walker just made a political promise that local property taxes in Wisconsin will be even lower at the end of 2018 than they are today.

There are at least two reasons why it’s completely outrageous for Walker to make such a promise. The most obvious is everyone in Wisconsin now knows Walker’s political promises mean absolutely nothing.

Four years ago, Walker was elected governor on the cross-my-heart political promise, repeated over and over, that he would create 250,000 jobs in his first term.

Going into his fourth year, because of the damage his extreme politics have wreaked upon his own state’s economy, Walker is still somewhere around 150,000 jobs short with one of the worst job-creation records in the country.

Perhaps even more important for the public to remember is that neither the governor nor the state Legislature levy property taxes in Wisconsin. Property taxes are the responsibility of local government to pay for local services.

What Walker essentially was saying is that he intends to stop local officials from raising property taxes to pay for the basic government services their citizens want.

So Walker is not only going to continue dismantling the state shared revenue system, which local officials fought for years to establish to get a fair share of the state’s income tax revenue to help pay for local services.

Now he also intends to prevent local officials from raising their own taxes to pay for local services. That’s difficult enough for local politicians to do when Walker and Republican state legislators keep grandstanding by pretending the most important function of government today is to cut taxes.

Despite what Walker and others on the far right tell you, cutting taxes is nowhere near the most important function of government.

There are all sorts of more important government functions: providing a decent education for all children, no matter where they live; funding outstanding universities and technical colleges leading to well-paying jobs for young people entering the workforce; providing police and fire protection to keep all communities safe, whether they’re rich or poor; maintaining public health and our beautiful environment with clean air and water and, yes, providing drivable, pothole-free public streets that don’t reduce cars to scrap metal and require drivers to wear crash helmets.

Until all our politicians—and maybe even a governor someday—start taking political responsibility to fund needed public services, big and small, at levels their citizens deserve, mere potholes could be just the beginning.

The way tax-cut politics have achieved importance over every other public need in Wisconsin these days, we’ll be lucky if our entire state doesn’t crumble and get swallowed up by a sinkhole.


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