The radical concept of fiscal responsibility

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute’s George Lightbourn thinks a new era may have dawned in Wisconsin politics:

“Over the past year in Madison, the psychology of government is changed.  No, it’s not because of changes to collective bargaining or recalls. The change is that for the first time in a long time, competence and fortitude have value.

“For years, the snide undercurrent running through the State Capitol was a belief that the citizens weren’t really up to the task of understanding the state budget.  Why else would our elected leaders so consistently approve budgets that they knew were unbalanced? The press conferences where governors of both parties signed the rivers of red ink into law were scenes where there was more winking going on than a Saturday night in Amsterdam. …

“Leading up to the last election for governor, our pollster asked if the public thought the elected leaders in Madison were, “capable of solving the state budget deficit.” Only 23% said they did. 59% of those same citizens told our pollster that they saw the state budget as a big problem.

“What a disconnect. It’s not often that you can actually measure public cynicism, but that is exactly what that poll did. It is ironic that the cause for the cynicism was the very political leaders who were counting on the public on being too dim to understand what was really going on in the budget?

“Now, after Governor Walker and the Legislature have rather famously – some would say infamously – balanced the state budget, how is the public feeling? We asked about that last October when 41% of the public said that they actually thought the budget – a budget that included numerous cuts – would actually improve the future quality of life in Wisconsin.  This level of approval is surprising given that most people – even Republicans – tend to get weak in the knees when it comes to spending cuts.

“Even more telling was the most recent Marquette Law School poll. Charles Franklin, who runs the poll, took a different approach to testing public sentiment around Walker’s austere budget. Franklin found that fully 71% of Wisconsin adults feel that the middle class in the state, “won’t catch a break unless we get state spending under control.”  In that same February poll, 38% of the respondents said that Walker’s budget would reduce the chance that we have budget deficits in the future.  Only 25% disagreed with that sentiment.

“So have we entered a period where nerdy, wonkish budgeting is fashionable?  I think yes.”

I guess I’ll agree with Lightbourn when I see the results of Recallarama Part Deux and then the legitimate November elections. I’ll also be more convinced that Republicans have seen the fiscal responsibility light when they pass legislation to officially correctly measure state spending by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles instead of on a cash basis, as well as when spending and tax controls are added to the state Constitution.

I’m not going to waste my time suggesting that state Democrats see the fiscal responsibility light, even though they should. Apparently the party is collectively too dense to figure out that while a significant number of voters may oppose the way that Walker balanced (on a cash basis) the 2011–13 state budget and fixed his predecessor’s deficit in the 2009–11 budget, going back to the way things were will be neither good for the state nor a winner with unattached voters. A Bill Clintonesque Third Way candidate might win a recall election, but if not, would be a frontrunner for the 2014 gubernatorial election.

Proof of the ineffectiveness of the bend-over-for-the-government-unions-strategy is that, according to Rasmussen Reports, opponents of Walker’s recall now have an 11-point margin over supporters of his recall. Most distressing for Democrats is that according to Rasmussen, 58 percent of unaffiliated voters oppose Walker’s recall.

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