Watered-Down TABOR Bill Rushed to Committee Vote in Wisconsin

Published September 1, 2004

For six years, Wisconsin State Representative Frank Lasee (R-Bellevue) has urged adoption of government spending limits as part of a constitutional amendment. Finally, on July 27, the legislature appeared ready to bring the issue up for a vote–but Lasee said he would not support it.

That was because the bill in question was a different one, crafted by the state Senate. After a public hearing that day before the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, and Privacy, the Senate version was voted through 3-2. The bill never came to a vote before the full Senate, however, which means the proposed amendment to the state constitution died, at least for this session.

“The proposal before you has many loopholes–large ones–which will allow business as usual, at least at the state level, for years to come,” Lasee said during legislative debate. He criticized the amendment because it contained no incentive to leave shared revenue and school aids alone.

“As state spending gets tighter, the state will simply reduce these local aids in order to continue spending at historic levels. Local governments will raise taxes to make up the difference,” Lasee said. “There is no referendum requirement for tax increases in this proposal.”

Process Described as Obscene

Manitowoc, Wisconsin Mayor Kevin Crawford and County Board Chairman Biff Hansen went to Madison on that Tuesday morning to oppose the content of the proposed amendment as well as the process for consideration and possible vote.

“This is a low point for our legislature’s ethics. The idea they would bring forth something as important as an amendment to the constitution, knowing legislators are out of town on political business, and run the issue through is obscene,” Crawford said.

“The state is stealing more money meant for local services to pay their own bills and forcing (local) public officials to either cut services or raise taxes,” Crawford said.

Lasee agreed. “The lack of safeguards for local aids and state mandates will allow the state to pad its own budget at the expense of local governments,” he said.

Hansen and Crawford were critical of Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer (R-West Bend). They believed she might call for a vote in hopes that state Democrats at the party’s national convention in Boston would be unable to return in time to vote against the plan. As noted earlier, the vote was called in committee and passed 3-2, but opposition from fellow Republicans discouraged Panzer from bringing the bill to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.

Officials Call for Local Controls

“I don’t understand how the legislature can spend 15 years being inefficient, waste money, get us into this $1 billion deficit, and then decide in one hour to change the Wisconsin Constitution,” Hansen said.

Crawford said there is a need for tax reform, but that proposals should be thoroughly debated.

Hansen advocated local control and oversight of spending. “I am very accountable to the people in Manitowoc County. They directly vote for me and I pass on tax increases to them. Local control is the best control,” he said.

Charlie Mathews is a reporter for the Manitowoc Herald Times. He can be reached via the feedback form on the newspaper’s Web site at http://www.wisinfo.com/heraldtimes/contactus/readerservices/submitnews.shtml. This article first appeared on July 28 and is reprinted with permission.