State Budget Repair Bill Is Big-Donor Protection Plan

WDC review shows special interest pork shielded from cuts

April 22, 2002

Madison - Despite a $1.1 billion budget deficit, state lawmakers crafting a budget repair bill are refusing to reconsider nearly $500 million worth of special interest tax breaks and pork barrel spending tucked in the original budget and have added at least $49 million in new breaks and windfalls sought by their most generous campaign donors, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported today.

Legislators and the governor also have ruled out a number of other potential solutions to the budget shortfall - from cuts in education spending to the elimination of some existing tax exemptions - that are opposed by the state’s most powerful special interest groups representing teachers and business.

"The big donors aren’t being asked to give up anything to solve the budget mess. In fact, the budget repair bill gives them even more handouts. The people who are being gouged are those who don’t write big campaign checks," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said.

"The canine desire of our elected officials to keep their campaign contributors happy is a root cause of the budget deficit. One look at the budget repair bill and it’s clear we will never have true budget reform until we get campaign finance reform," McCabe added.

In a report issued last September, WDC identified three dozen items worth at least $819 million - or $211 per state taxpayer - that legislators or the governor tried to stuff in the budget to benefit well-heeled special interests. At least $493 million worth of the items were ultimately approved.

WDC’s new analysis notes that in the versions of the budget repair bill developed by Governor Scott McCallum, the Joint Finance Committee and majority Republicans in the Assembly, none of the $493 million in items are reconsidered now that the state has a massive deficit. In the Senate Democrats’ version, one $3 million item is eliminated while the rest remain intact. But at least $49 million in additional items sought by special interests have been added to the budget repair measure by the governor and legislators, the new report notes.

A review of campaign contributions makes it evident why the proposals were drawn up as they were, McCabe said. For example, Governor McCallum received $1.35 million in 2001 from special interests that support his budget repair proposal, but only $2,100 from those who were among the hardest hit by the governor’s proposed cuts - local government officials and librarians.

Another casualty of the preferential treatment afforded big donors in the budget process is the $5.9 billion in tobacco settlement money Wisconsin was to receive over 30 years to fund anti-smoking programs. The proposals by the governor and legislators squander the settlement by selling off future payments for 20 cents on the dollar in order to immediately raise $1.2 billion to balance the budget.

"What they’re doing with the tobacco settlement money is like teenagers blowing their college savings in one afternoon at the mall," McCabe said. "And they’re doing it because they can’t say no to their campaign contributors."

“Hey Bidder, Bidder . . . the Sequel”