Last week, the Wisconsin Hospital Association dropped their opposition to a tax on hospitals originally proposed by Governor Jim Doyle.  The WHA had initially opposed the tax, and legislative leaders in both the Senate and Assembly had agreed to take it off the negotiating table.  Supporters of the tax believe it will allow the state to draw down federal matching funds, while opponents note that the tax will merely be passed on to hospital consumers (commonly known as \”sick people.\”)

With the WHA dropping their opposition to the tax (knowing that in the end they won\’t be the ones paying it), Senate Democrats have now reneged on their initial agreement to remove the tax.  According to Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson, the budget could be done quickly if Republicans accept the tax increase – that she previously had agreed to scuttle.

Owen Robinson has done an excellent job of explaining how the WHA\’s switch in position shouldn\’t effect budget negotiations.  For one, we elect legislators – not special interest groups.  For Assembly Republicans, it hasn\’t altered their position – they were opposed to it before, and remain in opposition regardless of the position of an interested organization.

There is, however, a second step to this equation.  Where is the discussion of Senate Democrats who have now flip-flopped their position at the behest of the Hospital Association?  Since when have we looked kindly at legislators who are so clearly led around by the nose by a special interest group?

The answer here is simple – since, in this case, the interest group is advocating for higher taxes, they cease to be a \”special interest\” in the eyes of the media and good government groups.  They are merely pushing for better health care, right?

Imagine if the opposite scenario had developed.  Suppose the original budget had a tax break for fatcat businesses, which the Assembly Republicans agreed, with the blessing of the business community, to take out.  Then, at the last minute in budget negotiations, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce came in and demanded it be re-installed, leaving Assembly Republicans scrambling to re-insert it as a budget bottom-line.  We\’d hear howls of undue special interest influence, charges of buying legislators, and the like.  We\’d get the predictable round of editorials pushing campaign finance reform and charges of negotiating in bad faith.

On the hospital tax issue, there has been one consistent voice - from the side opposed to it.  Those looking for the effects of special interest influence need to look no further than the Senate Democrats, who have handed their decision-making process to the WHA board.  Good government, indeed.