cur-mud-geon: anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner
The next two questions in our 'debate' are posed below. We'll reverse the order and feature Sen. Darling's responses to each question followed by Rep. Wasserman's responses.
What specific existing state programs can be cut to stop the ongoing issue of budget shortfalls?
During the 2003-05 budget process, I was the Senate Chair of the budget-writing Joint Committee on Finance. In that budget, we cut spending on state government operations by 27.5%, without cutting core services such as programs upon which low-income citizens rely.
In addition to the types of spending cuts such as those made in that budget, it's worth discussing programs that were created or expanded in the state budget passed last fall. In that budget, which I voted against, the Governor proposed increased spending of nearly $100 million of "general fund" revenue just for new or expanded programs. Certainly each of those programs will will have supporters and the merit of this spending can be debated, but there ought to at least be a discussion on whether these spending increases can be set aside or delayed until we resolve the state's fiscal problems.
Earlier this May, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran an article about how some prison guards appear to be abusing the sick leave and overtime rules to inflate their salaries into the six figures. Tightening up the sick leave and overtime policy at the Department of Corrections is just one specific example of where the state can still provide necessary services but at a lower cost to taxpayers.
Instead of program closures we should have county closures. There's no reason for Wisconsin to have 72 counties. Counties are often just an extension of state government, and one of the primary reasons why taxes are so high in Wisconsin is because we have the third highest amount of government per capita in the nation. For example, Appleton is in three counties; Wisconsin Dells is in four. Bayside, in my district, is in two counties. That means keeping multiple sets of tax records and voting lists and keeping track of different court systems, highway departments, sheriff's and veterans' offices. I proposed legislation to downsize and streamline government by reducing the number of counties to 18 or less, a 75% reduction that would save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Creating new county lines that do not divide communities artificially will consolidate services by ensuring that only one county serves each city, village or town. It's time we changed our government structure from an 1848 model to one that meets the needs of the 21st century.
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Do you support the repeal of state minimum mark-up laws? If so, why and if not, why not?
Yes. The mandatory minimum markup on gasoline was enacted in Wisconsin in the 1930s to prevent large conglomerates from entering the gasoline market and driving "ma and pa shops" out of business. The minimum markup law requires gas retailers to mark up the price of gas by 9.18%. The Federal Trade Commission and economists have suggested the law restricts competition, hurts consumers and drives up the cost of gas. This antiquated law makes it illegal for Wisconsin gas retailers to offer discounts on gasoline.
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Callahan ruled in October 2007 that Wisconsin's minimum markup law violates federal anti-trust laws. However, he did not issue an injunction against the state's law, so the law is still in place until the Legislature acts to repeal it. I am coauthor of a bill that would repeal the minimum markup law, but the session ended in March without a vote on the bill.
I have voted for every single repeal of the minimum mark-up law since I've been in the legislature. I have been very frustrated by legislators in both the Republican and Democratic party who would rather talk about the free market than support it and have refused to take up this issue.
In addition to supporting a full repeal, I introduced legislation that would repeal the minimum mark-up on prescription drugs. Recently Wal-Mart and Target expanded their $4 a month discount drug programs, but the minimum mark-up law prevents such programs from taking full effect in Wisconsin. You might think we'd have to go to Canada to buy cheap drugs but no, all we have to do is go to Illinois, where blood pressure medication that costs $28 here sells for $4 there. It's bad enough that we're paying more for gas because of the minimum mark-up law, but paying more for medication becomes a life and death issue when people are facing such tough times with their budgets. The minimum mark-up law in all forms has to go, but let's begin with my proposal, which will drastically reduce the cost of healthcare in Wisconsin.
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My thanks to both Sen. Darling and Rep. Wasserman for making this forum possible. We have more questions already answered and will produce another of these 'debates' in the next week or so.
In the meantime, please help us by sending you questions or subjects you'd like to see addressed, and I'll gather the information from both the incumbent and the challenger so that all can share in the answers. You can do so in the form of comments tied to this Blog or simply by clicking the email link at the top of this Blog to reach me that way.