Gov. Scott Walker has fashioned a reputation as a fiscal steward and political survivor. He made some tough choices during a severe economic downturn and turned a budget shortfall (how much of one is a matter of some dispute) into a surplus and, for his troubles, faced down a partisan recall effort.
With a nearly $1 billion projected budget surplus expected next year, Walker wants to slash property and income taxes as he heads into reelection this fall — a move many say could also grease a 2016 presidential bid should he decide to run.
The interesting, and to my mind, encouraging, thing is that the move, which will cost Wisconsin an estimated $860 million over two years, has met with skepticism from some Republicans in Wisconsin. Bade reports that “he’s facing headwinds from a handful of Senate Republicans who say the tax cuts should come after paying off a slew of unpaid bills due in just a few years. Walker’s plan would actually worsen the longer-term deficit outlook.” One state Republican senator told Politico, “The tax plan sets us up for a very bad time in the future.”
And Walker would do well to listen to him—because if he’s truly eying a run in 2016, he’s badly misreading the mood of the national electorate and even of congressional Republicans. The salience of revenue-reducing tax cuts as a plank in the national Republican platform has diminished over the years, as gains in income have been concentrated among a small cohort of already-wealthy voters. Recall: Mitt Romney, if only vaguely, promised to pay for lower tax rates by limiting deductions. Rep. Paul Ryan’s most recent budget proposal also was revenue neutral. Sen. Mike Lee’s barebones tax reform proposal is possibly revenue-negative, but it hasn’t been scored and, as written, won’t see the light of day.
The bottom line is that the GOP isn’t anxious to return to the playbook of the Aughts. In his first presidential campaign, Gov. George W. Bush warned against letting Washington get its hands on projected budget surpluses—“the people’s money”—so he promised to cut taxes instead. In office, Bush drained federal coffers of the surpluses—and then some.
Governor Walker is foolish to think Republicans, let alone the electorate in general, want to see that movie again.