Friday, May 05, 2006

A TPA Postmortem

So it all came to this. 11 votes, out of 33 State Senators. In the end, the TPA had about as much chance as a Boy Scout in Neverland Ranch.

Last night, the State Senate voted down two versions of the much discussed Taxpayer Protection Amendment to the constitution. The first version capped only state spending, which would have shifted the tax burden to the most hated tax in the state, the property tax. This version failed 12-20.

The second version was truly indicitave of what a disaster this process has become. They actually just threw up their hands and took a vote on the original piece of garbage that had been introduced in February, before people began pointing out its substantial unintended consequences and holes the size of Uranus. This was the version that disequalized school districts, that forbid the Miller Park district from paying off their bonds early, that included sewerage districts, that let the locals raise their property taxes to make up for lost state aid, and on and on and on. The senators that voted for this version couldn't seriously have been voting for the details - they were simply making a statement that they supported TPA in some form. This version went down 11-21.

So ends a TPA process that has been a complete disaster from the beginning. If there were a bill that leadership on which was serious about building consensus, State Rep. Jeff Wood and State Senator Glenn Grothman would probably be the last two people you would call on to foster good legislative relations. Instead, they pitched an amendment in February riddled with problems, then began to publicly negotiate via press release. All the while, legislators were hesitant to say anything publicly or even come to the negotiating table, for fear they would be "outed" as a "RINO." So in the end, the Legislature ended up with six or seven versions that never stood a chance, while the conservatives in the party were led along by the nose, being told that progress was being made. It took two years for the Legislature to completely shoot itself in the foot.

The only way that this process would have worked would have been to find consensus on a bill that had leadership's buy-in. The amendment that was introduced should have been the one that passed. Instead, there was no serious attempt by leadership to work with legislators on anything that stood a chance.

So ends a shameful legislative session where the State Senate actually voted down bills in the last days of session that would have allowed the freedom to smoke in bars, eliminated government mandated gas gouging, and killed the one bill that mattered to conservatives (TPA). In the past, no bills ever came to the floor and failed. This session, it happened almost every day. Senate Republicans now head into the election with virtually no reason to vote for them and no consistent message.

The conservative voters in the GOP will be perplexed and distraught that the vote ended up the way it did. They support TPA in concept, and can't understand why something can't be passed to limit state and local revenue. Truth is, state government just has too many moving parts. It's just not that easy to throw a wrench into an engine with a thousand moving parts and expect it to run. It would take analyzing the whole engine part by part, which would be so complex and detailed it couldn't possibly be done in the constitution. But now it is time for all those legislators that kept telling us that keeping taxes low is their responsibility to step up to the plate. It is now the obligation of the taxpayers to hold these people accountable, to make sure that they weren't just paying the voters lip service.

Somewhere last night, Mary Panzer opened a bottle of wine, sat back, and smiled. She held strong and refused to put her members through a torturous vote on a TABOR when she knew it couldn't pass. While it killed her in her district, State Senate Republicans picked up a seat. We'll see if they're so lucky this time.