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Doyle following in Dreyfus’ footsteps?

Matt Pommer

The Wisconsin economy is careening downward much as it did in Lee Dreyfus’ last two years as governor.
Dreyfus, sensing a growing political backlash, decided not to seek a second term in 2002.

Gov. Jim Doyle gives every indication he will seek a third term in 2010. But every governor needs legislators and editors to see him as the man fully in charge and anxious to continue being No. 1 in government.

Both governors had popular presidents of their own party in the White House. For Dreyfus it was Ronald Reagan. For Doyle it is Barack Obama.

As the 1982 election approached, Wisconsin underwent 13 straight months of double-digit unemployment.

Wisconsin’s current unemployment rate is still below that of other states. But Wisconsin has a history of both getting into and getting out of economic downturns later than other parts of the nation. Should that pattern continue, Wisconsin’s recession will extend well into the 2010 election year.

Real Democrats will moan that George W. Bush and six years of Republican control of Congress should be blamed for the current economic mess. But Americans have a tendency to blame the party in power for problems they perceive in society. That won’t bother Obama until 2012, but the gubernatorial election is just 19 months away.

Doyle will pay a political price for his solution to the state’s economic situation. His proposed budget has an assortment of tax increases and spending decreases. As expected, there have been warnings the sky will fall if taxes are raised. Special interests and their lobbyists are full-throat in denouncing aspects of Doyle’s budget plan.

Alas, the state requires a nearly balanced budget. Unlike the federal government, the state can’t solve a financial crisis by, effectively, printing more money.

Many citizens, busy with their own lives and families, may not comprehend the differences between federal and state budget issues and how they might be solved. Obama is talking about reducing taxes to stimulate the economy; Doyle is proposing tax and fee increases.

Doyle lacks the political luxury Dreyfus had in the 1981-82 downturn. Democrats then controlled both houses of the Legislature, and bipartisan solution ended up with a “temporary” higher sales tax that eventually became permanent. Democrats again control both houses of the Legislature.

Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, earlier summarized the current Republican position by saying it “is the Democrats’ problem.” There have been few Democratic voices defending Doyle’s budget proposals.

Will history repeat itself?

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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