Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Make 'em pay!

It's Day 95 here in Wisconsin without a new budget, and the good folks of this state are a little beyond ticked off. There's some talk, from both sides of the aisle, of passing legislation that would impose penalties on lawmakers if the budget isn't passed within a certain time line. One idea is to dock their pay until a budget is passed, but as tempting as that sounds, our trusty ol' state constitution says that "...the compensation of a public officer may not be increased or diminished during the term of office." That means we'd be in for a lengthy process if we wanted to change the rules.

However, there are a few other ideas that (as laid out in a WSJ article), in my opinion, strike the right chord:

  • Banning state elected officials from accepting campaign donations during the budget process.
  • Stopping all work and hearings on other legislation until the budget is passed.
  • Ensuring that all nonfiscal policy items be removed from the budget.
The first one is definitely my favorite. What would motivate our lawmakers more than anything else that doesn't require a constitutional amendment than taking away their ability to fund raise for their campaigns? I can't think of much. Accepting the fact that we're in desperate need of serious campaign finance reform in general (say, public funding for everyone?), we should for now focus on using it as perfectly legal bait to keep our representatives in line.

No budget? No fundraising. Simple enough. Our reps are so distracted by the need to get re-elected that they often forget why people put them into office in the first place: to serve the best interests of their constituents and not their pocketbooks. Seems straight-forward enough, but it's something that I suspect many politicians have either forgotten or never really taken to heart.

And until we make it clear that we're going to hold them responsible for things like this budget impasse and enforce strict consequences if they don't, they will continue to posture and drag their feet until they drive our state into the ground.

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