(Note: Mertz responds in comments below and at his blog. It's all good.)
Thomas J. Mertz, the Cheddarsphere's most consistent pro-public school voice, mentions me amid Tom Barrett and others in his latest, which is about taxes:
On and around April 15, “Tax Day,” you always expect to hear destructive messages from the likes of those now in the teabag crowd. Unfortunately, we are now hearing them from “liberals” and Democrats also. What is wrong with these people? [. . .]I have no desire to start or continue or whatever any kind of a spitting contest over whose liberal cred is bigger or the like. But I think Mertz here, both in his reading of a single post and in his use of sarcasm quotes around liberal in his description of me, misses some key points, and gets almost everything about me and what I believe about taxes wrong.
Leading “liberal” blogger Jay “Folkbum” Bullock jumped on the “taxes are bad” bandwagon with a post titled “On Tax Day, thank Democrats for your lower tax bills.” In the same vein was an email [note: pdf] from state Democratic Chair Mike “With this [2009-11] budget package, Democrats have strengthened K-12…education” Tate. Like Bullock, Tate boasts that “With Democrats in full control of government, Wisconsin’s tax ranking has improved for the first time in decades.” [. . .]
In a larger sense what is missing is the willingness to make a positive case for government programs and the taxes that pay for them. Barrett, Bullock and Tate all cede the ground to the anti-tax crowd. They begin by assuming taxes are bad and that cutting taxes is good. [. . .] The other mistaken assumption of this formulation is that current revenue policies are superior to any changes other than tax cuts. This is just silly. Tax codes are not divinely inspired, they are the product of years of messy legislative log rolling, horse trading and sausage making. There is plenty of room for improvement, involving increasing some taxes and cutting others.
One, I am a partisan. Always have been, always will be, and I have a near seven-year history of blogging to prove it. In almost every circumstance (David Clarke excepted) I am an advocate for Democrats and for Democratic candidates--and for better Democrats, too, as I was the one who asked who was going to challenge Tom Barrett from the left, mostly because of Barrett's attacks on schools. But given a chance to take a shot at Republicans, I will, as I greatly prefer to do that. In the post Mertz linked, my point was not "taxes are bad"; no such clause appears in the post at all. My point, rather, was that Republican politicians are lying about Democrats and that tea-party protesters are living in a fantasy world. The relative value of or need for particular taxes was not the main thrust of the post.
Two, I have, however, often written about taxes without being merely partisan. I was a staunch opponent of gimmicks like TABOR and I have been an advocate for higher taxes or usage fees, particularly in the context of trying to find ways to reduce Wisconsin's severe burden on individual taxpayers.
And three, long before Mertz was blogging and the current "a penny for kids" campaign, I was writing about school finance and property taxes and all of that mess. (For the record, I generally oppose swapping one regressive tax, the sales tax, for another, the property tax.) And trying, at the time, to advocate real reforms in equalization aid and real reductions on the cost side through things like effective health-care reform.
Look, no one likes paying taxes. But as I have written before, taxes are, essentially, the membership fee to the country club we call America and if we want to keep using the pool, we have to keep paying for it somehow. I don't think Mertz and I disagree on this, and I hope this sets the record a little straighter.