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Tough times test talk of less government

By Matt Pommer

Anti-government, anti-tax rhetoric is dominating the political landscape with elections some six weeks away.

That talk is being tested by very difficult times.

In mid-September state health officials said $675 million more will be needed for state health programs in the next biennium.

Thats on top of the $2.7 billion gap facing the next governor and Legislature.

The anti-government, anti-tax talk isn’t new. Just four years ago conservatives were pushing a proposed “taxpayer protection” constitutional amendment to effectively curb state government revenue and spending.

Republicans, who then had large legislative margins, saw the amendment as a way to curb the power of Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

The amendment died after religious leaders — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish — said the measure was against Judeo-Christian morality if it restrains government from doing what is right. Clergy, priests and rabbis carried the message to their people.

“The title of the amendment asserts we need to be protected from a large impersonal government. But no amendment can protect us from the moral claims of our neighbors,” the leaders wrote in joint statement published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“No Taxpayer Protection Amendment can protect us from the moral claims of our children to a quality education,” they wrote. “No amendment can protect us from the moral claims of our parents and other elderly neighbors to income security, care and services they need to live in dignity.”

Continuing, they asserted: “No amendment can protect us from the moral claims of the ill for health care and developmentally and physically disabled to human service that permits them to participate fully in community life. And in the final analysis, no amendment or slogan can protect us from the judgment of history.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker vows to have less government and less taxation.

BadgerCare, the welfare reform program initiative by former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, seems to be a target for a Walker administration.

A Walker campaign spokesperson said Walker would take care of health care needs by eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse.” Unanswered is what Walker means by waste and abuse. Is reducing eligibility for health programs an example of curbing waste or abuse?

That would mean less health insurance coverage for tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents. Participation in state health care plans was up 12 percent in fiscal year 2009 and 13.7 percent in the fiscal year ending June 30.

But 2010 is different from 2006. The economy is far worse, and we now may be more interested in ourselves than our neighbors, no matter how needy they may be.

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

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