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One Wisconsin Now moves from targeting WMC to Taxpayers Alliance, as it pushes progressive budget

One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross has simple goals: Good paying jobs, a clean environment, adequate resources for schools and health care for everyone.

And he isn’t going to let a $5.4 billion shortfall stand in the way.

“What has been going on for the last 30 years in terms of public policy has been providing corporations and those at the top with a larger and larger share of our tax dollars through loopholes, through things like ending the estate tax, things like that,” Ross says in a new interview with WisPolitics.

“That hasn’t worked, so we have a good opportunity to show now that we have some new leadership that there are things that we can do. By having certain people pay their fair share, by making sure that the middle class’ incomes are going up and not down, we will have the ability to fund the programs and priorities in state government that we all care about and at the federal level as well.”

Founded almost three years ago, One Wisconsin Now has become more vocal over the past year. It was a frequent critic of Michael Gableman during his successful campaign for the state Supreme Court last year and filed a complaint against him with state regulators after digging up records from his days as a district attorney that the group suggested show he made political calls from his public office. Gableman has said he doesn’t recall the substance of those calls but denies anything improper occurred.

OWN has also been part of a steady drumbeat of criticism aimed at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce in recent months and this week put out a report detailing political contributions made by board members of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a group that bills itself as non-partisan and is frequently quoted by state media outlets.

OWN reported WisTax board members have donated $288,000 to conservative-leaning candidates compared to $24,500 to liberals and questioned if the group should be considered non-partisan.

WisTax President Todd Berry took issue with the report, saying it was misleading because it went back 19 years and included donations from some who were no longer on the group’s board; Berry said half of the current board members donated to Dem Gov. Jim Doyle in the last election.

Berry also said he may have attracted criticism because he has publicly questioned the true size of the state’s deficit, opining the $5.4 billion shortfall cited by the Doyle administration is artificially high. Berry also questioned if there's a coordinated effort underway to go after anyone who would question the $5.4 billion number, which he says is meant to scare the public into accepting coming tax increases, spending cuts or both.

But Ross said the report was important so people understand if “they’re putting forward a conservative agenda, they’re labeled as such.”

“We just feel that there are instances where people need to know exactly what the source of material is,” Ross said.

Ross has held a series of positions in Wisconsin Democratic politics over the past decade, working for the old state Senate caucus, working on Kathleen Falk’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, serving as Peg Lautenschlager’s spokesman at the state Department of Justice and even making an unsuccessful primary bid for secretary of state against longtime incumbent Doug La Follette in 2006.

He joined One Wisconsin Now in August 2007 and has become a vocal proponent for progressive initiatives. Going into the upcoming budget, those include closing the “Las Vegas loophole,” bringing back the estate tax and reining in the tax break on computer equipment that extends to McDonald’s cash registers and the ATMs that “take our bank fees” at “two dollars a pop.”

Some have cautioned Dems to avoid a series of tax hikes in the budget so soon after regaining control of the Assembly for the first time in 14 years, believing doing so would cost them votes in 2010 and perhaps their new majority.

But Ross said the public will reward those who “do good” and help the economy turn around.

“The other thing is you’ve got to show some courage, goddamn it,” Ross said.

Listen to the full interview:

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