WisBusiness: Little agreement on best ways to cut deficits

By Maggie Schleicher

For WisBusiness.com

MILWAUKEE — A forum on state and national deficits Tuesday in Milwaukee sparked debate on spending priorities and the state budget but provided little common ground for solutions.

The forum “Debt and Deficit Reduction: Time for Action” at UW-Milwaukee featured national and state experts before a campus audience that several times spoke out against a cut-only mentality when it comes to budgets.

Louis Mercer, a UW-M teaching assistant and an officer in the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association, asked: “How does the slash-and-burn state budget help my students?”

Mercer said “students paying higher tuition in the name of austerity” is one of his concerns.

One of the panelists, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute President George Lightbourn, said tuition increases have been held down and that college students would benefit from a more robust private sector helped by the budget. But Lightbourn, a former DOA secretary, also hinted that Wisconsin two-year budget may be out whack because current growth is lower than projections used for the spending plan.

Later in the day, the Walker administration announced that the UW System faces a lapse of more than $65 million over the rest of the 2011-2013 biennium, by far the largest lapse outlined for all state agencies.

Jack Norman of the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future said talk about the deficit had been “hijacked” by conservatives and the revenue side of the equation needs to be emphasized.

Norman also proposed limiting profits of pharmaceutical companies, lowering physicians’ income and imposing a tax on the sale of stocks and dividends.

Attendees also heard from Diane Lim Rogers, chief economist for the Concord Coalition, and Alan Viard, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Viard shared the concern of attendee Michael Brandt, a retired UW-M professor, on the lack of “stable income distribution.”

“We should not be taking from those who have the least,” said Viard. Instead, he favors a progressive consumption tax to ultimately replace the income tax.

Rogers described Concord Coalition as agnostic: “We aren’t an organization that is for balanced budgets always – we are about fiscal responsibility.”

“The conservatives hate me equally because I say the thing to do is pay for tax cuts we want to extend, or don’t extend them.” said Rogers, who writes the Economist.mom blog http://economistmom.com/about-economistmom/

Click to hear the forum: http://www.wuwm.com/programs/lake_effect/view_le.php?articleid=1376