The New Year Brings New Members and New Challenges to the Capitol

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Senators, Representatives and their families will soon gather to open the 101st Session of the Wisconsin Legislature.

Inauguration Day will bring families and neighbors to the Capitol. The members meet in their respective chambers for the swearing in of new members.

An exceptionally large number of new members are joining the Assembly this year. The new members will bring their real life experiences to a very different type of job. Their experiences will help in the people part of the job, but the policy part of the job requires a very steep learning curve in their new role.

Member are expected to know the answers to complex questions from the day they declare their intention to seek elected office. But the vagaries of changing the school aid formula or fixing the tax system, require extensive study. Just understanding the terms and abbreviations takes a while to learn.

During the first few weeks of the new Session, new members go through a very intensive orientation. Different support agencies and professionals bring their wisdom to the orientation.

Many volumes of paper are given to the new member as homework assignments. Back at the office, a lobbyists wait to call upon the new members.

Even seasoned Legislators are given volumes to read from the state’s Fiscal Bureau in preparation for the state budget debates. These papers are fabulous resources for Legislators and citizens alike to help understand the complex policy decisions facing the state.

There is much buzz in the Capitol about changing the tax system and the school funding system. Both are complex policies with far reaching ramifications.

Many constituents are also asking about the effect on the state if the federal government fails to resolve the problems leading to the fiscal cliff.

Potentially three to four billion dollars could be removed from the state’s sixty-six billion dollar budget. The effects would fall hardest on education and health programs- two of the largest parts of the state budget.

Much is made of the increasing state revenues. While the state tax collection has somewhat improved, the delaying of debt payments and the chronic underfunding of several aspects of state government means that resources will remain tight.

New faces and new leadership will hopefully bring new perspectives to old problems.

Many members have an intense desire to lower taxes. This will require a hard look at the many deductions, exemptions and credits that favor select activities.

Wisconsin has one of the most complex tax codes in the country. Many of these tax- breaks are used by very few filers.

I spent the summer as part of a committee looking into possible changes in the tax code. Many of the professionals who appeared before the committee advised similar action: broaden the base of the tax code; lower the rates; eliminate the breaks to politically favored activities.

This is hard medicine for both sides to follow.

The last time the Legislature took a “serious look” at the tax code – nearly a dozen years ago- very few changes were made.

The problem is that every one has something they want to protect.

Only by looking at the entirety of the system and sacrificing the “sacred cows” of both parties can real reform happen.

This will require real bipartisan work.

The New Year brings new hope from all my constituents that real bipartisan work will really happen.

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