This week the Wisconsin Department of Revenue released the long awaited, actual State Revenue numbers from 2013. The most reliable, non-partisan analysis came from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau at the request of State Senator Jennifer Shilling, ranking minority member of the Joint Finance Committee. The bottom line – revenues were over $280 million short (-2%) of Walker Administration projections. More telling, corporate tax revenue was down by over 9%, while personal income tax revenue was down 2.5%. Wisconsin is facing a possible budget deficit of well over $100 million in 2015.
There was immediate response from both Democrats and Republicans. The Democratic message was consistent with the current gubernatorial campaign message – the Walker plan is failing, and Wisconsin is falling behind. Republicans were taking a victory lap, proclaiming that this is proof of a growing economy.
Both parties’ messaging on this critical economic issue is lacking, but for different reasons. For Democrats and progressives, there is no communication of the deeper “WHY” these revenue numbers are important, or “WHY” people should care. For Republicans and conservatives, their message is intentionally hiding a fundamental truth. Which, if progressives communicated effectively, would make conservatives extremely vulnerable, and undermine their own message. Let’s look at the conservative message frame first, which will lead us to what progressives should say, and why that matters.
Why would conservatives be celebrating such dismal state revenue numbers? Especially a 9.2% drop in corporate revenue collections? The answer lies at the core of the conservative frame (moral worldview). The core of the conservative frame of “The Public” (i.e. government) is that it is immoral. The public is immoral in the conservative moral frame because it impedes pursuit of one’s own self interest, and most importantly, the personal pursuit of profit in the market. Therefore, to conservatives, a drop in state revenue collections means that things are working exactly as they should. Corporations and the wealthy, specifically, are able to keep more of their money – a moral imperative. The Public is not impeding their pursuit of profit – again, a moral imperative.
While conservatives are consistently expressing this in their messaging on this issue (and all others), progressives are not countering this effectively. There is a fundamental truth which is being intentionally hidden by conservatives in order to preserve their own frame. If progressives started communicating this truth effectively, it would completely undermine the conservative message. What is this truth?
In Wisconsin, as in America, private enterprise and prosperity depend on The Public.
We are the Public. We all come together as The Public with a moral purpose to empower and protect each other as ourselves; and expand freedom and opportunity for everyone. Without that core value, we cannot function as a state, nation, or even society. Think about it…all of the things we do for each other, ourselves, our communities through The Public make us strong and prosperous – and provide opportunity for everyone:
The list goes on and on. Most importantly, the corporations and people who are benefiting the most from The Public are now, in Wisconsin, getting a free ride at OUR expense.
The tragedy of these state revenue figures is the fact that it is The Public (all of us) being dismantled and destroyed. None of the things listed above that provide all of us, and our communities, the freedoms and opportunities necessary to prosper will exist if this trend continues. We have an obligation to communicate this to the people of Wisconsin – or else conservatives will continue dominating public discourse on this, and every other, issue.
When someone expounds the virtues of conservative policy, and how wonderful the revenue news is, remind them of this:
Without all of us, acting as The Public, our opportunities and freedoms to pursue a prosperous and happy life do not exist.
Then bring up all the things we do together, as a community, to provide those freedoms for each other. It is all fundamentally true and necessary for any society, nation, state, or community to function. And conservatives a trying to hide that fact…
It is up to us to shout this truth over and over again – for our future’s sake.