Don’t know much, but nevertheless

Published 5:46 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Just because I don’t know much about a subject should not prevent me from commenting on it. That sounds silly, doesn’t it?

The reasonable approach would be if I don’t know too much about something, I should, perhaps, not say too much. That’s never stopped me before, and, besides, what’s the fun in that.

Today’s subject is Wisconsin. What I knew about the Badger state could have been written in a few sentences until a few weeks ago. That’s when their newly elected governor, Scott Walker, made a bad error. As a politician, he should know that campaign promises were not really meant to be kept. Surely there are plenty of other people who have run for political office who could have told him so.

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Wisconsin is not unlike most other states, including our fine state of Georgia. They all spend more than they collect in taxes. It’s a trick we learned from our Uncle Sammy. Of course there is one huge difference. Uncle Sammy owns the dollar machine and can always crank out a few more billion when he needs them. States cannot.

That’s why most state governments have a constitutional mandate that they must have balanced budgets. They don’t really have to abide by the budget; they just have to sort of act like they do. Every now and then, there is someone who comes along and makes the promise that they are going to, really and truly as we say here in the South, balance the budget. I guess there is one in every crowd and, in Wisconsin, that one is Scott Walker.

Government finances are a big deal these days. From local to state to federal, it seems that the deficits are growing bigger than Michael Moore. It’s got people running scared and anyone who will promise to get tough with somebody else’s deficit spending can be a popular guy.

I say somebody else’s because when it comes to living large, we don’t want somebody messing with our deficit. We want the budget balanced on someone’s else’s back. That’s what Scott Walker found out.

Every coin has two sides and so does this Wisconsin coin. It’s true that the governor found what he felt was an unsustainable deficit. He found that if Wisconsin government kept spending at its current pace, within two years, they would be spending almost $4 billion more than they collected in state taxes.

I sure hope Walker stays away from Washington. If $4 billion caused him to have heartburn, then the deficit in Washington might send the poor man into full-fledged financial meltdown. That’s not good!

So we might say that one side of this Wisconsin coin shows a great need to get a hold of this state budget. I am reminded of our good friend and deputy sheriff Barney Fife. He would look Walker in the eye and shake his finger saying, “Governor, we’ve got to nip it! Nip it in the bud!”

The other side is crying bloody murder. Oops, I shouldn’t have used the word “murder.” That’s a lack of civility.

The other side of this coin is public employee unions who have, through the years, negotiated some pretty good packages of wages and benefits. They claim that Walker is being heavy-handed with them and trying to cast them as the villains in this budget balancing battle. Not fair, they say and they have been very successful at getting their side of the story told.

Generally, brouhahas like this last for a few days. A budget is proposed and it goes to the legislature amidst a whole lot of screaming and carrying on. Most of the time, though, a vote is taken and the screaming and the hollering dies down. The only problem with this vote was that it could not be taken. Some senators skipped the state and hid out, refusing to give the governor the pleasure of a victory.

I was thinking that I had never heard of such a thing like people who were elected to vote skipping town so they would not have to vote. I called upon a gentleman friend who has much more political acumen than I to ask if he could remember such a precedent.

Jack Brinkley, former U.S. congressman, told me that he remembered one instance in Texas. Very good memory has the congressman. It was in 2003 that the Texas Democrats pulled the stunt. A little research showed that Abe Lincoln had also used the tactic as an Illinois state representative.

“It is not without precedent,” said Brinkley, “but it’s not common.” Thankfully.

So what’s the bottom line? What does this have to do with me or you?

Not much except that this movie might be coming to a theater near you very soon. Will we follow the same script? Will we scream and holler and divide up sides so that we cannot solve our problems? Will we walk out or pitch a fit?

Have we passed the time when we, as adults, can not sit in the same room and talk about our real problems and come to some reasonable compromise? If that is the case, then we have a very rough row coming our way.

The Rev. Lynn Roberts is pastor of the Sutton Chapel United Methodist Church, located on Vada Highway.