Special Interests Pig Out On The Taxpayers’ Tab

Governor, legislature approve bills costing families $235 a year

May 21, 2012

Madison – Republican Governor Scott Walker and the legislature have approved nearly five dozen proposals sought by powerful special interests that will cost the average family $235 in 2012 and continue to grow to nearly $300 annually in 2020, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign report shows.

The 15-page report, “Special Interest Smorgasbord,” profiles 55 state budget items and bills approved during the 2011-12 legislative session and signed into law by the governor that benefit more than a dozen special interests, including business, manufacturing, construction, transportation, real estate and agriculture even though Walker has repeatedly said “Wisconsin is broke!”

Eighteen proposals had price tags that will cost state taxpayers $334.5 million, or $235 for a family of four, in 2012-13 and continue to grow to at least $438.9 million, or $291 a year for a family of four, in fiscal 2020-21. The cost of these new laws will be borne through increased general fund spending on major highway projects; tax credits and tax cuts for new and existing businesses of all sizes inside the state and to attract business from outside Wisconsin; and the creation of controversial health savings accounts and capital gains and investor tax cuts that benefit mostly wealthy individuals.

The well-heeled special interests that benefited from the laws highlighted in the report contributed a total of $13.7 million to Walker from 2009 when he began his run for governor through 2011. These special interests also contributed $9.9 million to legislators, including $7.5 million to majority Republicans who spearheaded passage of many of these measures.

Thirty-seven measures approved by the legislature and the governor and highlighted in the report gave special interests a clear break or benefit, such as relief from legal liability, regulations, local control or other issues but have no state costs or undetermined public costs. Some of those include:

  • Eliminating compensatory and punitive damages for racial, sexual and other acts of job discrimination which was supported by business, transportation, insurance and four other special interests that contributed nearly $12 million to the governor and Republican legislators;
  • Eliminating the state Public Service Commission’s authority to regulate prices and conduct rate cases involving the telecommunications industry. The measure was supported by business and telecommunications interests which gave $2 million to GOP legislators and Walker;
  • Prohibiting the Department of Natural Resources from using stricter regulations than federal law to regulate hazardous emissions from agricultural waste. The agricultural industry supported the proposal and contributed nearly $1 million to legislators and the governor;
  • Reducing costs for developers of large residential and business projects by prohibiting the DNR from requiring them to have permits for indirect sources of air pollution. The measure drew support from construction, real estate, manufacturing and other interests that contributed more than $11 million to Walker and legislators;
  • Preventing communities from enacting ordinances that require businesses to provide paid or unpaid employee medical and family leaves. The proposal was supported by business, tourism and other special interests that contributed nearly $10 million to GOP legislators and the governor;
  • Removing some wetlands pollution protections which drew support from agriculture, construction, road builders and nine other special interests that contributed more than $11 million to Walker and Republican legislators;
  • Creating numerous exemptions to rules that limit truck lengths, weights and heights which are designed to enhance traffic safety and limit road damage paid for with fees and gas taxes all drivers pay. Eleven laws passed to change truck-size and shipping weight limits were supported by transportation, road builder, agriculture and other interests that contributed nearly $6 million to the governor and legislators;
  • Exempting perpetrators of hazardous waste pollution in state-licensed landfills from future liability if they voluntarily investigate and clean up the problem – even if the cleanup fails. The proposal was supported by business and other interests that contributed nearly $5 million to Walker and legislators;
  • Preventing local communities from prohibiting repairs based on cost to nonconforming structures, like docks and boathouses, subject to shoreland zoning and prohibiting local ordinances from being stricter than state law. The proposal was backed by construction and real estate interests that contributed nearly $5 million to GOP legislators and the governor.

The proposals highlighted in the report show average taxpayers are picking up an increasingly larger share of taxes and the cost of public services and programs because of special interest giveaways approved by state policymakers who refuse to fix a pay-to-play campaign finance system and end their reliance on large contributions from those wealthy interests.

Report: Special Interest Smorgasbord