Thompson came into office as Governor of Wisconsin in 1987 making a lot of talk about cutting the budget. While Politifact has ruled that "Wisconsin’s overall tax burden went down while [Thompson] served as governor from 1987 to 2001," his budgets from 1995 to 1999 contained $188 million in general tax increases. The 1995-97 budget also contained $120 million in increased fees.
A column by Bruce Murphy this week argues that taxes went up considerably during his tenure as governor.
"A study by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that in his first 12 years of office, state spending rose by 101 percent — more than twice the rate of inflation. ...(Dave Blaska blames a good deal of the increase in taxes on Thompson's Democratic predecessor, Tony Earl. But now that blaming one's predecessor is anathema to conservative thought, let's just ignore Mr. Blaska, shall we?)
"During Thompson’s first 12 years in office, the average Wisconsin citizen’s income tax payments rose by 127 percent — more than two-and-a-half times faster than inflation. Sales taxes rose by 90 percent, nearly twice as fast as inflation. As a study back then by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance found, income taxes had soared because in 1986 the state stopped “indexing” the income tax rates to account for inflation."
The catch was that Thompson was so gosh-darned passionate about spending for some pet items that it overwhelmed his gosh-darned passion for cutting taxes. He pushed through a voucher plan to spend public tax money on private schools. His other passions included trains, state worker pensions, and concentrating power in the Governor's Office (in particular, asserting control over the Department of Natural Resources).
Wisconsin Works, or W-2, replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Like President Obama's Health Care Reform, W-2 was extremely complicated, with a lot of moving parts; a program to extend health care benefits to low-income families with children was added to W-2 in 1999.
But let's return to the issue of the measure of conservatism as it's defined today. Again, from Bruce Murphy:
"Thompson crowned his tenure as a tax-and-spend governor with the passage of an outrageous 1999 law that sweetened the state pension system’s payoff for Thompson and other veterans. The law was championed by union leaders and Thompson and passed by a bipartisan legislature, sweetening an already generous state pension plan at a long-term cost of $5.5 billion.While these pension plans won Thompson the endorsement of the state's public employee unions over his Democratic opponents in 1994 and 1998, they have not endeared him to the current Governor, whose first actions in office have been to unilaterally scuttle the agreements.
"As with the infamous Milwaukee County pension plan, Thompson’s was skewed to deliver the big benefits to the insiders, the employees with the biggest salaries and longest tenure. The lifetime value of Thompson’s already generous pension, for instance, grew by $111,000. "
In the end, Thompson left his successor, Scott McCallum a precariously balanced budget when he left for Washington D.C. in 2001.