By Matt Pommer
Republican gubernatorial hopeful Mark Neumann contends his GOP opponent Scott Walker is “promising the world to get elected” to avoid a focus on his years as Milwaukee County executive.
Truth rings in Neumann’s assessment that Walker is making a lot of promises about taxes. Walker’s latest promises include freezing the property tax and exempting retirement income from the state’s personal income tax.
Wisconsin already has curbs on property tax increases, but provisions for referendums let voters override tax-and-spending limits. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for local governments and school districts to borrow and sell bonds with absolute curbs on the property tax.
Perhaps more important, local officials believe there must be flexibility in dealing with local problems.
Walker contends that cutting and freezing taxes will promote job growth. It’s unclear how eliminating the tax on pensions and 401(k) accounts will create major growth in business and manufacturing.
Earlier this year, Walker vowed to repeal corporate tax changes and personal income tax increases on the rich. He is vowing less regulation and an improved approach to urge economic expansion in Wisconsin.
Neumann has complained that Walker refuses to engage in debates. That’s too bad because Walker should explain how, as governor, he would balance the state budget, which is already facing a potential deficit in 2011-13 of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Much of the state’s general budget goes back to school districts and municipal governments. Would he reduce aid to those entities at the same time he is trying to freeze the property tax?
Is Wisconsin headed for a significant increase in the state sales tax? Or perhaps federal aid, sought by many states in worse shape than Wisconsin, is an answer. That sort of aid, whatever it is called, adds to the federal deficit.
Walker will learn that sharply reducing spending for the prison and correction systems won’t fly in the Legislature, regardless of which party is in the majority.
Prisons are scattered across the state, and in many towns they are among the biggest employers.
Another major area of spending is higher education, and Walker promises to make the university system operate “more like a business.” That needs some explanation given the promises for reducing state taxes.
Neumann has focused his criticism on promises by suggesting Walker is trying to avoid a close study of what has occurred in the Milwaukee metropolitan area in recent years. It’s a double duty political idea, given that the Democratic candidate for governor is likely to be Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.