The deadbeat next door

To say things are politically turbulent here in the State of Wisconsin might be an understatement.

With the recall of our governor underway there are obviously two camps. You either want the governor recalled or you support him. I suppose there are a few fence sitters out there but they are probably few and far between.

The other day I had lunch with one of my left-leaning friends. We typically get together once a month to keep in touch and spar on issues of the day. After the usual pleasantries the conversation turned to the recall which quickly escalated to a “2” on the Defcon scale. We both brought up our usual talking points and became hopelessly entangled trying to convince the other to take our respective side. Like two mature male deer locking antlers in a field we were hopelessly deadlocked, tugging back & forth.  A standoff.

And then I said something that brought a pause to my tablemate; “Well, you would agree that having a balanced budget is better than having a $4 billion dollar deficit right?” My tablemate fell silent and pondered this for a moment suspecting some type of conservative trap. “Well, uh…sure – but HOW we got that balanced budget is what’s bothering me!”

Finally  we discovered common ground. While we disagreed on how to get out of debt, we both agreed not being billions in debt was a good thing.

After that we slowly backed off of politics and the conversation turned to the usual things: Family life, business, motorcycles, the quick end to the Packer season and upcoming vacations. The rest of lunch went fine and we left each other as we always do – with a handshake and well wishes. Antlers still in place.

I would guess that my lunch conversation is not unusual to most Wisconsinites. Regardless of which side of the issues you’re on, there’s probably someone you know with the opposite view – a spouse, family member, co-worker or friend. But while we disagree on certain issues, we do so in a state that’s far better off than some.

For some perspective, let’s look at what is happening in Illinois.  I go through the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times daily reading the stories of the absolute mess they are in. Some estimates show the Illinois deficit ranging from an $8 billion dollar short term to a long term debt that reaches as high as $160 billion. Think about those numbers for a minute and let them sink in because they are off the charts huge. Illinois’ debt is raging out of control.

Scrambling for more funds to stop the hemorrhaging debt, Illinois is doing everything from closing libraries to selling ad space on city landmarks such as bridges & buildings, raising taxes (on everybody and everything) to raising the toll road fees and laying off state workers – lots of them. Democratic Illinois Governor Quinn has suggested cutting Medicaid to the poor by $2 billion dollars.  As they try and figure it out no solid answers appear. The debt keeps right on growing.

A recent story in the Chicago Tribune told of the state cutting funding to funeral homes who bury the poor or homeless. Local funeral homes stopped getting paid by the state and therefore they wouldn’t accept the bodies for burial from county morgues. The bodies were stacking up like cordwood in the morgue freezers. Once the story got out (complete with morgue photos)and went nationwide the state scrambled to quell the issue by reinstating some of the funding. Turns out you can’t leave dead bodies lying around, people get funny about that.

How bad is your financial situation that you can’t bury your dead? Pretty bad.

Here in Wisconsin we are not out of the woods yet when dealing with our budget. I suspect more belt tightening is coming but we are well on our way and in much better shape than those Bear fans to the south.

The budget is a complex issue and I think you’ll agree no single answer is going to fix it. We may disagree with each other and argue on the recall, but we do so in an environment without billions in debt. Unlike Illinois our state parks are open, roads are still being repaired, and bridges don’t have Nike signs hanging on them.

And we can bury our dead.

We are not Illinois.

A great position to be in.

Steve Kohlmann is the president of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin (IBAW).

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display