Following Governor Doyle’s State of the State address last night, the La Crosse Tribune reported state Senator and third district congressional candidate Dan Kapanke called for the state to adopt zero-based budgeting;
“Let’s build each department from dollar one,” Kapanke said.
Zero-based budgeting makes for great rhetoric as it requires administrators to justify each dollar spent in a department budget, instead of assuming funding levels from the last budget as a given. In the present hostile-to-government, tea party environment, voters love hearing “the government is not entitled to anything.”
Unfortunately zero-based budgeting is a bureaucratic nightmare. The hours spent re-building a budget from scratch is rarely recovered in cost-savings. Despite open hostility to government, many people have grown quite comfortable with government programs. The political backlash to cuts can be enormous.
The federal government tried a form of zero-based budgeting in the 1970′s under President Jimmy Carter, experiencing the problems described above. President Ronald Reagan ended the experiment, as did most state and local governments (Public Budgeting Systems, 7th ed, p. 122-3). Even Reagan acknowledged the flaws of ZBB, but it continues to be brought up by Wisconsin Republicans like Kapanke and Brett Davis, both while seeking higher office.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin is good at offering mere talking points without any proposals that could actually improve government or people’s lives. In the same article Kapanke touts stunts for his Congressional campaign, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout discusses the Wisconsin CORE Jobs Act saying;
“It’s not easy to put into a sound bite…it’s a way to make capital available to new businesses.”
Vinehout’s honesty is refreshing. Not only is she neglecting talking points for her re-election this fall, she is actively working to put Wisconsinites back to work.
Republicans often say “health care is flawed but we don’t need to dismantle the entire system to reform it.” Government budgets contain waste but compiling each budget from scratch is not the best method to eliminate that waste. More legislators should follow Sen. Vinehout’s example and put people over political stunts.