Fri May 4, 2012
Democrats' last debate before the recall primary
Most of the Democrats running for governor showed a reluctance to raising the state's sales tax to pay for schools in a Friday night debate broadcast by Wisconsin Public Radio and Television.
But all were open to reversing tax cuts signed into law by Governor Scott Walker.
Candidates were asked specifically if they would support raising the sales tax by a penny per dollar to pay for schools.
"I will not raise taxes on working families," said former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, one of the four Democrats running for governor, and the most firm in her opposition to a sales tax increase.
"I don't think right now is the time to look at raising the sales tax for education," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
"I'm not in favor of raising the sales tax by one percent," said State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, adding that when it comes to funding schools, "I believe that the money exists in this budget."
Only Secretary of State Doug La Follette supported the idea of raising the sales tax for schools.
"That's a good concept to start with," said La Follette, who said it needed to be part of a broader look at the way the state funds education. "I can remember now 35 years we've been discussing property taxes and school funding, how that doesn't work."
Reversing Walker Tax Cuts
All four Democrats were open to reversing at least some of the tax cuts signed into law by Governor Walker.
Senator Vinehout singled out a the domestic manufacturing tax credit, a measure added to the budget last year by Republican lawmakers. It's being phased in and will cost state government $10 million next year. By 2016 that would ramp up to nearly $129 million in lost revenue to the state each year.
"We need to delay that tax credit or get rid of it altogether and use that money," said Vinehout.
Falk singled out Walker's changes to the combined reporting tax paid by multi-state corporations that do business in Wisconsin. That tax cut will mean a roughly $46 million drop in state revenue for this two-year budget.
"From the very beginning, months ago, I said I would eliminate that Las Vegas Loophole," Falk said. "That alone full funds the restoration of the technical college system."
Barrett said he wanted to look very carefully at the manufacturers' tax credit. He also mentioned combined reporting.
"I certainly want to take a long, hard look at that and am interested in repealing that," said Barrett. "I will ensure, though, that it doesn't create a problem for any specific company in our state that is creating jobs."
La Follette said he would put together a task force to look at the overall tax situation.
"I certainly agree we need to get rid of this famous loophole for out-of-state corporations," La Follette said. "But we also need to look at the loopholes for property taxes and sales taxes."
Those specifics aside, the recurring theme at the debate was more general statements by candidates about how they would heal partisan wounds in Wisconsin. A recent poll by Marquette University showed that 14-percent of Democratic primary voters said "reducing political divisions" in Wisconsin was their top issue. That compares to just 12-percent who said their top issue was restoring collective bargaining rights--the issue that sparked the recall effort to begin with.
"What I've found is when people get to know each other, when they get to know their kids play soccer together, or if they play softball together, if they cook together, they get to know each other as people," said Barrett. "That's what we have to do again."
La Follette said he was the only candidate capable of bridging the partisan divide because he had few enemies. "You can't attack Doug La Follette for very much," he said, "except walking to work and maybe only being distantly related to Fighting Bob La Follette."
Vinehout said it came natural in her part of the state.
"In Western Wisconsin, we know that we all have to get together because we've got to live together for the next four generations," Vinehout said. "And I believe that a good idea doesn't have an 'R' or a 'D' behind its name."
Falk reached out to women voters.
"It takes mom, usually, to get the folks together," Falk said. "That's what I think our state needs. We need a mom and I'm anxious to be that mom and get us back working together and solving problems."
The Democratic primary is Tuesday, May 8th. The winner will take on Governor Scott Walker in the June 5th recall election.
Friday night's debate was a collaborative project between Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Today's TMJ4 in Milwaukee.