Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wisconsin GOP State Legislators Collect Farm Subsidies

At a time when Republicans are calling for decreases in teacher's salaries and the elimination of collective bargaining, all in the name of balancing the budget, it makes you scratch your head when those same legislators are collecting what amounts to a welfare check from the federal government - if these people were truly principled and believed in what they said, wouldn't they have refused the subsidies?  

Sam Stein from The Huffington Post reported on the hypocrisy.
At least three of the Wisconsin state Senate Republicans currently demanding that public workers sacrifice benefits, wages and even collective bargaining rights for the sake of the budget have applied for and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal farm subsidies, a Huffington Post review of state and federal records shows.

From 1995 through 2009, state Sens. Luther Olsen, Dale Schultz and Sheila Harsdorf all had stakes in farms that received between them more than $300,000 in taxpayer funds.

Those federal appropriations had no direct impact on the state’s current budget woes, but the cash spent on those subsidies, which went to support a range of functions -- from soybean production to small hog operations -- could have been used elsewhere, perhaps even in Wisconsin. More than that, critics say, it muddles the notion, pushed by these lawmakers and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), that only they are serious about reining in an overextended, overspent government.

“Members of both parties ... preach fiscal austerity all the time, but then when it comes to farm subsides going to farmers in their districts, they think the spigot should remain wide open,” said Don Carr, a spokesman and policy adviser for the Environmental Working Group, which tracks and critiques federal farm subsidies.

As Carr acknowledged, there is more than a little irony in the use of government largess by the same senators now demanding that public workers tighten their belts.

Farm subsidies have long been criticized by conservatives and progressives alike as a clear waste of taxpayer money, but supporters of federal farm policy and less partial observers caution that for small farms, taxpayer help is key to survival. In the case of the Wisconsin state legislators, the farms in question seem to be primarily family operations.
Even though Stein indicates the subsidies are federal, not state, I do not think that matters.  When discussing pension plans and the fact that they are completely funded by the public employees, critics of unions who want to increase pension contributions point out that their entire benefits package (including salary) is funded by taxpayers.  Likewise, the fedral government draws its revenue from all Americans, including Wisconsinites, meaning these legislators who attack public workers for living large off the taxpayer's back are doing the same thing. 

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