During last week's GOP Gubernatorial debate between Scott Walker and Mark Neumann, a question came up from the citizen panel in Madison asking for three areas where the candidates would prioritize state spending and three areas where they would cut spending to address the budget deficit.
Neumann had the opportunity to answer first and focused on two things, but they weren't the two items from the question.
First, he explained that the problem with these sorts of short lists are that they allow politicians to sound like they are tough on spending, but they leave out other areas of the budget where politicians, including those from the GOP, raise spending. The end result for voters is, of course, higher taxes or more debt or both.
The second item Neumann focused on was the need for an overall approach to controlling spending. Specifically, he argued for capping the growth of state spending at 1% below inflation. So his plan is to start with a bottom line approach to control overall spending and then go department by department to see how individual programs fit within the framework of controlled spending.
If you are a Keynesian who believes the government should spend mightily, this obviously isn't an answer with which you will agree. If, on the other hand, you are a likely voter in the Wisconsin GOP primary, I'm guessing you are not a Keynesian and this answer should appeal to you tremendously, just as it did to me. It is this overall framework that can guide spending decisions, and just as importantly, will allow voters to easily see how well the governor is doing when it comes to controlling spending. Frankly, I thought Neumann crushed Walker on this particular question.
Unfortunately, the members of the citizen panel weren't impressed. Debate moderator Mike Gousha allowed a follow up question where one of the panel members said that Neumann's answer was too short on specifics. I could only shake my head in disbelief. Given the choice between a comprehensive vision for attacking the problem of deficit spending in this state and a sound-bite on programs that most people love (education) and many GOP voters hate (public employee labor costs) voters actually prefer the sound-bite!
Neumann dutifully offered up his own short list centered on education, infrastructure, and safety when it came to areas to protect spending, and who can blame him. The best plan in the world won't do us any good if the guy with the plan doesn't win the election.
If you are a Wisconsin voter that believes we need to get spending in Madison under control, Mark Neumann is clearly the superior candidate on this question. Neumann's plan to control spending is discussed in more detail at his website.
Mark Neumann also has a background in education, this will come in handy if he is elected governor. It seems the voters of this state still have a few things to learn when it comes to controlling spending.
(You can watch the debate at WISN. This particular question is around the 16:00 mark)