Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Doyle dollars: Punishing success with higher taxes

For more than three decades -- beginning with the "no tax increase" sham budgets of former Gov. Patrick Lucey -- there's been a huge "smoke and mirrors" game in Madison which has resulted in higher taxes and less accountability.

Here's how it works.

In order not to increase the state income tax, Lucey came up with a litany of user fees and further shifted costs to counties and municipalities. So, while the governor and legislature didn't raise taxes, they were increased anyway because counties, cities, villages and towns needed to cover the shifted costs. Thus, Madison politicians continue to snow constitutents while local officials are left to take the heat.

One particular area of hypocritical cost shifting has to do with incarcerating juvenile criminals.

When an adult is sent to a state prison, the annual cost (about $27,500 a year) is picked up by the state. Not so with juveniles.

Counties are socked with the cost of locking up juvenile criminals -- and the Jim Doyle team wants to up that cost from $68,000 a year to over $94,000 a year.

Why so expensive?

Essentially, it's the price to be paid for success.

You see, forcing counties to pay for locking up juvenile criminals was supposed to be an incentive for judges to do everything possible at the local level to avoid doing what probably should have been done a lot earlier.

As a result, fewer juvenile thugs are being sent to reform school -- in fact, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that while there were about 450 boys at Ethan Allen School in 1998, the number dropped to 288 last month.

One big problem is that while the number of residents dropped, the fixed costs remain the same. That means it costs the state about as much to handle 288 juvenile miscreants as it does to handle 450. Thus, the cost per resident is higher and that increased cost is billed to the county that locked up the juvenile offender.

All of this means that the financial incentives originally conceived for dealing with juvenile lawbreakers at the community level are evaporating.

Of course, if the state does what it should, it should pick up the full cost of incarcerating juvenile criminals at state institutions. But since when does this state do what it should?

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