Capitol Commentary

James L. Palmer, II
WPPA Legislative Lobbyist

Over the course of the last few months, the WPPA legislative staff has been busy voicing our opposition to the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” or TABOR. TABOR is a proposed constitutional amendment designed to control state and local government spending permanently, and would require that spending increases be approved by voters in a referendum. In addition, the legislature discussed plans to pass yet another property tax freeze, which Governor Jim Doyle had indicated he would veto.

In opposing stringent cost controls, the WPPA explains to lawmakers that, while addressing Wisconsin’s property tax burden is a worthwhile objective, laws that reduce the quality of the local services that people have come to expect will only work to create more problems than they resolve. Whether in the form of a constitutional amendment or a property tax freeze, cost controls would be extremely detrimental to all public employees, but police officers would be especially impacted.

If enacted into law, these measures would likely force police officer layoffs statewide, as local budgets are often balanced on the backs of police officers. Public employers would use the spending limits as their justification for being unable to pay their officers a fair wage, effectively rendering Wisconsin’s collective bargaining laws meaningless. In addition to negatively impacting public safety as a whole, fewer officers on the streets would impact officer safety as well. Consider, for example, that the Office of Justice Assistance recently reported that assaults on law enforcement officers last year increased in Wisconsin by 32 percent over 2002 levels. During this same period, a significant number of law enforcement positions were eliminated or left unfilled. Budget cuts have a very real and tangible impact on the level of danger the law enforcement community is forced to confront on a daily basis.

A decline in the quality of public safety also negatively impacts economic growth (for example, people are much less likely to move into a community where public safety is tenuous). If people are not safe in their communities, the value of other local services is diminished. Cost controls are bad for public safety, officer safety and for Wisconsin’s fiscal health.

I am greatly pleased to inform you that the legislature has decided that it will not vote on TABOR or a property tax freeze this year. This news is a testament to groups like the WPPA, and to the many WPPA members who worked to enlighten Wisconsin’s lawmakers of the unintended consequences that these measures entailed.

I am also pleased to announce that the WPPA Board of Directors has formally adopted a public affairs platform for the upcoming year. The platform is a declaration of the legislative policies and principles that the WPPA legislative staff will pursue on your behalf.

Establishing a platform and reviewing it each year creates a mechanism through which WPPA members can directly influence this organization’s legislative priorities. This platform will be used to develop an annual report card of legislators’ votes on bills of importance to the law enforcement community. The platform and the report card will appear in this publication and on our web site, and will let members, potential members, and lawmakers know exactly what this organization stands for. You can find the WPPA Public Affairs Platform for 2004-05 on page 5.

One of the new policies adopted by the WPPA Board of Directors is to encourage members to become more politically active. This past year, I’ve met with a number of locals interested in establishing local political action committees. More and more WPPA members are beginning to realize that if they don’t like the budgetary decisions made by their elected leaders, there is something they can do to change the people who make those decisions. By creating and making effective use of a local political action committee, you can help change the face of your local government, and improve the quality of your working conditions. Anyone interested in learning more about local political action committees can contact me at the WPPA Madison office. I would be more than happy to meet with your local to discuss forming a local PAC, and to answer any questions you and your members may have.

With more than 10,000 members from over 375 locals statewide, the WPPA is Wisconsin’s largest and strongest law enforcement association. As WPPA members become more involved in political and legislative affairs, the WPPA’s proud history of service to its members that began in 1932 will continue to thrive for many years to come.

Have a safe summer!

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