Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Pony up: Vilsack needs another $341 million to make us all healthy, wealthy and wise.

The Gov did a strut, pose and turn for the national politicos with his bag of budget tricks let loose during yesterday’s state of the state. As reported by the QC Times.

The governor’s proposed 2006-07 budget, released Tuesday, calls for a 6.9 percent spending increase and nearly $180 million in new taxes and fees, including taxes on cigarettes and beer, and fines for speeding and drunk driving.

The $5.3 billion spending plan is up $341 million from the current year.

But some state spending is outside the regular budget. This includes a proposed $280 million earmarked for various other accounts, which is up $60 million from the current year.

After stitching up a quick budget analysis, the GOP legislative types came out with this take.

…Within an hour of the budget’s release, the parties launched into arguments about why it is bigger or smaller than it appears. …

… Republican leaders say the budget increase is much larger than 6.9 percent because that number doesn’t include the many off-budget spending hikes.

The details, at least at this point, are irrelevant; this is the opening bid. The Republicans and the Democrats are just beginning to figuring out the parameters of this budget fight. And make no mistakes, a lame duck governor in a closely divide legislature with a blow it out your ass budget is just asking for a long haul to April…May.

And I really don’t get the Vilsack strategy, toss out lots of “fee” and tax increases while selling the virtues of big government programs dreamed up on one of the many sojourns to Democratic donor-rich policy hot spots?

In some ways, particularly with all the tax increases, Vilsack has left his Senate Democrats in the parking lot with their fake GOP Lite IDs and the beer. All a Republican needs to do is point to the text of the speech raise an eyebrow and spew the “all they want to do is tax us” charge. I am sure Gronstal will be glad when the session is over and he can marshal all of his liberal colleagues back into their closets.

The other interesting wrinkle is the GOP family issues playing out behind both Chambers. It’s probably already starting with setting the budget targets, their version of the Vilsack budget. Do they work together as a one team or does one side pull a cowboy? (I know, cowboy metaphors are sort of awkward when all anyone can think about is the odd parallel between SP’s Cartman and Ang Lee’s -- not short for Angie, just in case… -- Brokeback Mountain.)

Despite the preference for cowboy politics, the two sides of the GOP family really need to consider the recent past and how some of the more independent moves – different versions of the same bill, separate budget targets, and slightly different priorities – create complications. In an off year complications are no big deal, but in an election year too many family fights might burn the clock; time that could be spent raising money, knocking on doors, and teaching those cute nine year olds how to parade wave even on their bad days.

Hard to say how this last hurrah of a Vilsack budget is going to play out. It might depend on the slottery odds the spend-happy lobby takes on filling Vilsack’s chair with another Democrat. On the other hand, it might come down to Vilsack & the GOP guys picking a few of their policy winners; the issues that’ll give ‘em all enough goodies to pack a future oriented political agenda that they can sell, sell, sell.

However it works, it certainly is interesting. (All right, you have to prefer mainlining your political fix, otherwise this is really boring, and then you should be thankful -- you’re normal.)

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