It must be an election year. Wisconsin Republicans indicated that they would work with Governor Doyle on a heating bill. Quick recap: Republicans hold a majority in both the state Assembly and the state Senate. Governor Doyle peremptorily summoned the legislature into session after the Republicans had previously refused to increase state heating aid. I have a few questions I'd like to ask about this plan.
Doyle wants to set aside $6 million from an environmental cleanup fund to offer one-time heating assistance to people who do not currently qualify for aid. Some 30,000 families would qualify for $200 to $300 dollars apiece, Doyle's office estimates. The Republicans agreed to work with Doyle after the governor last week called for a special session of the Legislature on Tuesday to take up his plan, which would expand eligibility to a family of four with an income lower than $40,000.
How were these numbers arrived at? How many people four-member families with an income lower than $40,000 are there? How many of them desperately need this aid? How much heat does the Governor want to pay for? A passable 68 degrees or a balmy 75 degrees? One is necessary, one is simply extravagant. Does the Governor's plan take this into account? Is this a true necessity or simply a vote-buying effort by a Governor desperate for good news? Will this money really be taken from the environmental cleanup fund or will Doyle later use the environmental cleanup fund as an excuse to raise taxes further?
Families "are left to worry for another week about how to pay the bills and whether they'll have to choose between heating and eating," [Governor Doyle] said at a news conference.
This statement is extremely misleading. Wisconsin law prohibits heating companies from cutting off the heat if citizens are unable to pay their bills. People can catch up on their bills during the cheaper summer months. If paying large bills during the winter is a worry, most utility companies allow people to pay on a "budget plan" that distributes the payments evenly throughout the entire year. No citizen of Wisconsin need to choose between heating and eating. If money is tight, the state allows them to choose eating now and worry about the heating bills later.
The eligibility expansion could help people such as Deanna Topper of Mount Horeb, a single working mother who was denied heating assistance last year. Topper, a case manager for a social services agency, said her heating bill had doubled since that time and any state aid "would be a huge relief."
I am sure it would be huge relief if the state would help. I would consider it a huge relief if the state of Wisconsin would help pay for my cable bill. That doesn't mean that the state needs to pay for Ms. Topper's bills.
Actually, I wonder if Ms. Topper has cable television? I don't know if she does or not, but let's hypothesize that she does -- just as a thought experiment. If so, I would argue that the state is subsidizing her cable bills. By helping to pay for her heat, they would be allowing her to spend her own money on a cable subscription. I'm not sure what the rates in Mount Horeb are, but here in Madison I would have to spend $45 a month to get cable television. Over the course of a winter, that would be a cool $225. If Wisconsin is determined to give people another $200-300 a month, they should force people to choose between cable television and heating, to pinpoint just one luxury that 62% of all Americans enjoy.
Fitzgerald, co-chairman of the Legislature's budget committee, said he also questioned spending $6 million more because the state and federal government are already spending a record $80 million to help the poor in Wisconsin pay their heating bills this year.
This has been one of the mildest winters on record for Wisconsin. We're already spending a record amount of money to pay for heating bills. A record amount of money in a year that has been very mild. Why do we need to spend even more money on heating? Keep in mind that no one will have their heat cut off this winter. No one will freeze to death if we don't spend this money. Why is it so urgent that we spend it now? Why are Wisconsin's Republicans so eager to help the governor spend even more money?