Being free to express different opinions on issues and policy is an important part of our political process. I have always valued our democratic process that allows for differing views while maintaining respect and civility. Another important aspect of our political process is constituent input. The reality is that on any given issue, there are opinions on both sides. However, a new spin on our political process that has sprung up recently is that if one side doesn't get the results they want, they claim it is because they are not being listened to.
Nowhere is this more evident than what we are seeing and hearing from the protestors who oppose the budget repair bill. They chant, carry signs, and even intimidate, in their efforts to block positive change and preserve the status quo.
Clearly, those who oppose the budget reforms have been the loudest, even attempting to silence those who support the reforms by threatening to boycott business owners who don’t speak out in support of their views. Middle class taxpayers need a voice too, and it should not be drowned out by tens of thousands of protesters in Madison and elsewhere. These protesters are certainly making a splash on the national scene, but they don't necessarily represent the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin taxpayers and families.
I know that because as I talk with working families in our area, who often don't have the time to take days off to protest, I hear that balancing our state budget and controlling our tax burden is critical. That is why the recent measures to reform government are so important. Without controls on tax increases and reforms to government spending, the average homeowner could see more than a $700 property tax increase over the next two years. I know that seniors on a fixed income and working families can't afford the huge tax increases that go along with the status quo that the special interests are fighting so hard to protect.
As a state, we are faced with a series of difficult choices. After years of credit card spending, billions in tax hikes, and fiscal irresponsibility, voters in November chose to reverse course. As lawmakers, our choices to dig out of our huge budget deficit are: dramatically raise taxes; make deep cuts that would result in massive layoffs and service cuts; or cut spending but do it in conjunction with basic reforms to our government so that we can avoid the massive layoffs and protect basic services for taxpayers and the neediest. The Legislature has chosen the last option.
So, when you hear that we aren't listening, look at the facts. The budget repair bill had one of the longest hearings ever in the budget committee, lasting over seventeen hours. Then, the State Assembly held the longest floor debate in modern history, clocking in at over 60 hours straight.
The special interests that are backing the protesters have no trouble getting their message out. The teachers’ union (WEAC), one of the primary instigators behind the Madison protests, spends more money than any other special interest in Wisconsin. According to the Government Accountability Board, WEAC spent nearly $1.6 million on legislative races in Wisconsin during the last election cycle, 60% more than the next-highest group on the list.
Despite all that spending, voters in November elected a governor and legislature that promised to reform state government and balance our budget so we can make Wisconsin a place where businesses actually want to come and set up shop. Getting people back to work is our number one priority and getting the state’s fiscal house in order without raising taxes is the first step to getting that done.
I recognize that there are strong and passionate views on both sides. As elected officials, we listen and then must take a position. The voters sent a clear message in November and now the legislature is doing what the voters asked us to do.
No amount of shouting by protesters who want to preserve the status quo, with out of control spending and higher taxes, will stop me from doing my job. I listened to taxpayers and families who can’t leave their job to drive to Madison and protest. They want a government that they can afford, without huge tax increases, and that is exactly what the budget repair bill and the budget provides.
I appreciate your continued input. Please stay in touch by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or sending me an e-mail to Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov .