State issues in spotlight
Hillary Clinton — in her first presidential run in 2008 — said she would renew Wisconsin's popular prescription drug program for seniors, but in 2016 she and her opponent, Donald Trump, have both avoided answering the question.
Trump, a Republican, says he would lower income taxes for a family similar to the typical Wisconsin household by 35% over their current bill. But one tax lawyer and academic who has served in President Barack Obama's administration has calculated that the family's tax cut would be far less, only about 0.2%.
These answers and insights came in response to a series of questions the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put to the presidential candidates dealing with Wisconsin issues such as the Great Lakes, dairy industry subsidies and the SeniorCare program. The questions aim at regional issues that aren't well-covered by the national news media.
"Sadly, campaigns have become issueless over time but this one in particular," said Mark Graul, who ran President George W. Bush's re-election effort in Wisconsin. "It is entirely focused on the actions and personal backgrounds of the candidates."
In marked contrast to past presidential races, few of the policies put forward by Clinton and Trump this year have registered with voters.
In October 2004, for instance, Bush won the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation's endorsement after backing the renewal of the Milk Income Loss Contract, a dairy subsidy program that had delivered more than twice as much to Wisconsin as to any other state. Four years later, then-Democratic primary candidate Clinton backed renewing the MILC program, while eventual GOP presidential nominee John McCain opposed renewal because of the cost to taxpayers.
But in 2016, neither Clinton nor Trump has taken a stand and said whether they support in 2019 renewing the Dairy Margin Protection Program, which replaced the MILC program as a tool to protect farmers from plunging milk prices.
The answers, if there were any, matter in a state where more than 1 million cows produced more than 3 billion gallons of milk in 2015 alone.
As a senator, Clinton "introduced legislation to support dairy farmers in New York and around the country. She has engaged agricultural experts, farmers, ranchers and other to ensure...policies that keep our dairy farms, rural communities and agriculture sector vibrant and growing."
When asked if Congress should renew the Dairy Margin Protection Program - a federal initiative aimed at protecting farmers from the effects of low milk prices that expires at the end of 2018, Trump noted that Wisconsin lost almost 400 dairy farms in the last year. This cannot continue. As president, Trump will work with Congress to promote good regulations for farmers and food manufacturers and look for ways to lessen the burden of the depressed dairy economy.
One issue where both Trump and Clinton have laid out extensive plans is on taxes. Both candidates say their plans would benefit Wisconsin, where median household income is $52,740 a year.
Clinton's tax plan would raise taxes on the wealthy by putting a minimum tax rate on those making more than $1 million a year, limiting their deductions and raising taxes on estates and on capital gains from the sale of stocks or property, according to PolitiFact. Clinton's plan, which would take $500 billion to $1.1 billion more from taxpayers over the next decade, would have much less effect on the poor and middle-income families, with no tax increases proposed for households making less than $250,000 a year.
Clinton's overall spending and tax proposals would add about $200 billion to the deficit over the decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Trump's plan would cut taxes more than any other candidate of the 2016 cycle, with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget saying that his plan would add $5.3 trillion to the deficit over that period. His plan would collapse the number of income tax brackets, lower income tax rates, and eliminate the estate, alternative minimum and Affordable Care Act taxes.
Trump's website says his plan would cut taxes by 35% for a family with $50,000 in income, two children and $8,000 in child care expenses. But a detailed paper by New York University professor and former Obama administration official Lily Batchelder found that Trump's proposals would in many cases deliver smaller cuts for families — or even increases — because of Trump overhauling the way deductions and exemptions for family members like children are handled.
"In reality, that family would receive a tax cut of only $93, or 0.2% of their after-tax income. And if the family had three children, that tax cut would become a tax increase of nearly $450," Batchelder writes.
The largest percentage decreases in taxes would go to the wealthiest taxpayers — who also pay more in taxes — amounting to 10% to 20% of after-tax income for the top 1%. Lower and middle-income earners would see decreases of 2% or less.
The nearly 90,000 Wisconsin residents receiving prescription drugs through SeniorCare have a stake in whether the next president renews this unusual state program.
Similar Medicaid programs were dropped in other states following the introduction of Medicare Part D, but SeniorCare has survived in Wisconsin in part because of its popularity among both Democrats and Republicans and its relatively simple structure compared to the Medicare benefit.
The program will need to be renewed by the next president's administration in December 2018, but neither Clinton nor Trump said if they would do so.
The Trump campaign said the real estate developer would renew Medicaid programs by giving states health care block grants, which typically have less federal funding but also fewer strings. Clinton praised the SeniorCare approach of having the government seek discounts from drug companies to lower the price of prescriptions, saying she'd use that strategy to save Medicare Part D $100 billion.
Road, bridge funding
In Wisconsin, Republicans are contending with one another about how to close a two-year $1 billion shortfall in the state's road and bridge fund. At the federal level, Clinton has pledged a $275 billion plan to improve infrastructure within her first 100 days in office.
"Hillary understands that our investments in infrastructure are roughly half what they were 35 years ago," her campaign said.
The federal government could also boost state infrastructure spending — and costs for motorists — by approving tolling on Wisconsin interstates. But Clinton's statement didn't address that.
Trump has promised an even bigger boost in infrastructure spending but signaled that he wouldn't back new gas taxes or tolls to fund that.
"The best way to resolve the crisis would be to find savings in the transportation budget, and in other government departments," the campaign said. "The last thing you want to do is raise taxes on hardworking families, nor increase fees and tolls as (Clinton) will do."