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Time to schedule a Tea Party

By Matt Pommer

It’s time for Tea Party folks in Wisconsin to mobilize if they really want to curb government taxation and spending.

Scores of Wisconsin school districts are asking voters at the April 6 spring elections to approve spending and property-tax increases beyond state-set levels. The Tea Party folks need to defeat these referendums to achieve their anti-tax momentum. Education is the most expensive item for state and local spending.

Yes, the school issue is tricky. If the referendum results are mixed, students may opt — using the open-enrollment law — to attend schools in other districts. The districts where they live would pay tuition to the receiving school district.

School board members are busy saying they need more help from state government. That’s just wishful thinking. The 2009-2011 state budget was balanced by tax increases and by federal stimulus money.

Even if the new governor is interested in helping local schools, it wouldn’t occur until the 2011-2012 school year.

None of the major candidates for governor are talking about higher state budgets. To utter the words “tax increase” is an invitation to be denounced for the next six months on talk radio as an irresponsible, wild-eyed spender. The two Republicans have plans to reduce state taxes and spending. That seems to hint at less, not more, state money for school districts.

More federal stimulus money also seems out of the question. Conservatives have denounced federal spending levels, warning it will sharply escalate the country’s deficit position.

In the long run, there are the soaring projections for Medicare and Social Security. One solution with a Wisconsin tie is Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposal to privatize the programs for those younger than 50. The plan has made the Janesville Republican a favorite among conservatives as a possible vice-presidential candidate.

With little hope for new federal or state money, the tax focus will be concentrated at the local level. Defeating the school referendums will force hard decisions on elected school boards.

State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, has said many school districts are on the brink of bankruptcy. That seems to assume school boards won’t reduce the educational programs, dramatically increase the size of classes or eliminate many extracurricular activities. Parents will protest loudly about those ideas.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state facing difficult government spending issues. Press accounts suggest that between 13,000 and 17,000 teachers in Illinois may be getting layoff notices this spring.

Perhaps that news will inspire the Tea Party folks in Badgerland.

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

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