The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Patrick Marley and Jason Stein got the scoop on the latest Koo-Koo plan, which includes a number of tax changes, and also seems to include a whole lot of money-shuffling.
•Applying the state's 5% sales tax to gasoline, which could bring in more than 10 cents per gallon at current Milwaukee area prices of $2.22 per gallon.Not a bad idea on its face. But I’d need to see if that money goes to Wisconsin’s General Fund (and is possibly transferred to the Transportation Fund) or goes directly to the DOT Fund itself. A similar question comes from a part of Marley and Stein’s story that says the general 30.9-cent-a-gallon gas tax goes down by “4 or 5 cents”. It’s quite possible that the base amount of money going into the Transportation Fund would go down under such a plan.
Oh wait, here’s the way that the Transportation Fund would make up the money!
•Applying to the federal government for permission to place tolls on certain state highways.Bad enough if you don’t like tolls in principle, but even worse, the tolls wouldn’t add a dollar in revenue for several years, and have start-up costs estimated at $350 million to $400 million, according to a study released at the end of last year. Which again makes me wonder how the numbers could add up for this in the short-term.
Then we see this bit of Koo-Koo budget magic.
•Cutting roughly $300 million of the $500 million in borrowing for roads contained in Walker's two-year budget bill. That means that over the next two years much of the new money being raised would go for debt reduction rather than for additional road projects.If true, that wouldn’t be “debt reduction,” but instead mean that we’d have to come up with $300 million in revenue somewhere over the next 2 years to keep from borrowing. And even if we did, that amount of spending would still result in the delays in projects that are set to occur under current base funding.
But wait, there’s more fun on the General Fund side!
•Making significant cuts to income taxes as part of a plan to move to a 4% flat tax over many years. "The long-term goal is to say we have a flat tax," [Assembly Speaker Robbin’] Vos acknowledged.I'm not sure how we afford that, given the $1 billion General Fund deficit that we already have in line for 2019. That deficit also would indicate that the 5% sales tax on gasoline would go to the General Fund, and then an amount would be transferred over to the Transportation Fund. However, you’d have to think other spending (read: schools and shared revenues to local governments) would have to be cut even more in order to keep the General Fund anywhere near balance.
And this being Koo-Koo Kooyenga, the plans also include plenty of good old-fashioned Koch whoring, such as getting rid of the state’s minimum markup law on gasoline prices, which could lead to a Wal-Mart-like effect of driving out local gas stations (oddly, the GOP supporters at Kwik Trip are opposed to this, possibly because the law helps them sell more food on the inside).
There’s also the blind hope from Kooyenga that wage repression measures will reduce costs for road projects, while somehow not hurting tax revenues or causing a shortage of qualified workers. As I’ve pointed out several times, our current “skills gap” is really a wage gap caused by cheap-ass Wisconsin businesses, and these provisions would make it worse. Koo-Koo also wants to hurt state workers, as the Marley and Stein article says part of this plan would privatize the work of 200 DOT engineers out to consultant firms. This is despite a study from 2011 that showed using outside contractors cost nearly $14 million more than keeping the duties in-house at WisDOT.
Getting rid of DOT engineers would also reverse something that Koo-Koo and most of the rest of his WisGOP legislative colleagues signed off on 4 years ago. The move was noted in the brutal Legislative Audit Bureau report that talked about billions in highway overruns that have plagued DOT projects for several years.
In its 2013-15 Biennial Budget Request, DOT requested an additional 180.0 FTE engineering and technical positions because it indicated that it did not have the staff necessary to oversee projects and consultants appropriately and to complete other engineering work. 2013 Wisconsin Act 20, the 2013-15 Biennial Budget Act, authorized these positions but did not provide additional funds. Instead, most staff in these positions were to complete work that otherwise would have been completed by consultants.And now Koo-Koo thinks that we should go back the old way that was more expensive? How does that help taxpayers or accountability? And what kind of kickback to what kind of campaign is Koo-Koo looking for?
From October 2013 through June 2014, DOT filled the 180.0 FTE positions, including 140.0 FTE positions in the regions and 40.0 FTE positions in the central office. Four regions indicated that these positions had increased their ability to complete engineering work with DOT staff, but one region indicated that these positions had only minimally improved its ability to do so.
Obviously, a lot can be changed before we see these proposals put down on paper, along with the price tags associated with such tax deforms, and what kind of shell games are being played with taxpayer dollars. But combining the Marley and Stein report with what we know the state budget to be these days, I think that this guy
Is just the state government version of this guy.
They’re Gen Xers with cute faces that can read their lines well and speak in cool jargon, which tricks the average rube into thinking they know something. But for those of us who actually can put numbers together and don’t live in a RW Bubble of Bullshit, we see that none of these figures add up, and it has led to bad fiscal results whenever these guys’ advice has ever been followed (Ryan with the massive deficits following the Bush tax cuts and war spending, and the state’s had 3 straight revenue shortfalls since Koo-Koo’s tax cuts were put in place in 2014).
But Pau-LIE and Koo-Koo will never let those facts and failures get in the way of their plans to cut taxes for the oligarchs who donated to their campaigns and sell off government functions to their puppetmasters. And they don’t care who else is hurt by the budget cuts that result from those giveaways and resulting lack of tax revenue.
Of course, revenue estimates that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau will come up with in the next week will give us an idea if there is any money to play with at all over the next two years. But regardless of what those revenue numbers say, I feel quite confident in thinking that following yet another Koo-Koo tax plan for 2017-19 is not going to be the right way to go.