Wisconsin, Riders and Efficient Government
This isn’t exclusively a wine-related rant, but the recent action by Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle in using a line-item veto to strike the alcohol regulating language which strongly favored wholesalers from the state Budget bill touched on an issue about which I have been passionate for years. What the Governor found offensive was that the alcohol language was placed in the Budget bill at all and that it was of questionable use in supporting the three-tier system. It had been added as a rider, a frequently used technique wherein a lawmaker will add an amendment at the last minute to a bill that is sure to pass even if the language is entirely unrelated to the substance of the bill.
The rider is the primary tool of pork-barrel legislation and inefficiency in government. Lawmakers use it to pass legislation to benefit their friends that might not otherwise pass on its own merits while hiding this relative lack of merit behind the greater importance of the primary bill to which it is attached. In Wisconsin, it was done to benefit the wholesalers, who no doubt lobbied heavily for its inclusion in the Budget bill because it would be much more likely to pass than it would have on its own. The rider is the reason we the taxpayer get bridges built to nowhere and research studies of little use except to the researchers receiving the grant money.
Many were upset about Doyle legislating from the Governor’s office when he lined out the offending sections prior to signing the state’s Budget bill, ending a 3-month long stalemate. Many argue that the line-item veto is of questionable constitutionality because, by picking and choosing which portions of a law to sign into effect, the executive office is effectively legislating. While I also question the constitutionality of the line-item veto, I also object to the use of the rider to pass legislation of questionable merit or that favors a small constituency. Some will argue that without the rider, nothing would get done in the legislature. They may even be right. But if what we are getting done is simply passing pork-laden legislation benefiting small constituencies at the expense of everyone else, then maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. This is not a political question. It is not contingent on which side of the political spectrum you inhabit because both sides do it. It is about efficency and waste in government. Get rid of the rider and the line-item veto becomes a non-issue. More importantly, laws will pass or fail based on their own merit and bridges to nowhere won’t lead down a road to ruin.