Wisconsin Republicans are taking a last stand for minority rule, wielding their budget ax, refusing to discuss the governor’s proposals, and ignoring the will of the people as only a gerrymandered legislative majority can. | Getty Images Creative
Wisconsin Republicans’ preferred candidate just took a beating in a much-watched state Supreme Court race, prompting soul searching at both the state and the national levels about how the GOP lost touch with voters, whether the suburban women they depend on to win elections are enjoying our state’s return to nineteenth century abortion rules, and what lessons can be learned ahead of Election Day 2024.
So what do the Republican leaders of the Legislature’s powerful budget committee do this week, as they take up the most significant task of the legislative session? In a hasty hearing that was over in time for lunch, they eliminated 545 provisions in Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed budget on Tuesday in a single, straight party-line vote. Among the hundreds of items they tossed in the trash without bothering to discuss them were proposals that have massive public support.
- Access to federal Medicaid coverage for 89,700 uninsured residents, at a cost savings to the state of $1.6 billion (supported by 70% of Wisconsinites)
- A paid sick leave program for businesses with at least 50 workers, paid for through payroll contributions from both workers and employers. A poll of 15 states including Wisconsin found broad support for the plan across party lines, with 69% of respondents saying they would support paid leave even if they had to pay more taxes to sustain it.
- A 10% income tax cut for middle- and low-income Wisconsinites.
- A provision to allow Wisconsin’s 70,000 undocumented workers, including those who now perform more than half of the work on Wisconsin’s dairy farms, to once again get driver’s licenses, increasing road safety and saving state residents $16 million in auto insurance premiums alone.
- Universal background checks for gun purchases, which are supported by 79% of Wisconsinites
- Extreme risk protection orders, to allow judges to take guns away from people who pose an immediate threat to others, which has 81% support.
- Legalizing marijuana, bringing Wisconsin into line with our neighboring states and generating $56.5 in new state revenue (69% support)
As Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback remarked tartly, “If I were a Republican Party that had lost 14 of the last 17 statewide elections, I would simply not reject wildly popular policies supported by a majority of the state.”
What are the Republicans up to with their public display of disdain for the things a majority of voters care about?
According to GOP leaders, some of the most popular measures in Evers’ budget plan are “nonfiscal” items that do not belong in the state budget and deserve more debate and discussion as separate bills. But don’t hold your breath for stand-alone bills on popular gun violence measures, for example. As Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Republicans have never taken gun violence seriously in this state, so no one should be surprised that they are removing this list of extremely popular items as quickly as possible because they are afraid to have a debate about them.”
Instead of discussing Evers’ plan to allocate the historic $7 billion state budget surplus to priorities that received an outpouring of support in public hearings around the state, the Republicans are zeroing out the budget and going back to Square One. They will work from the last budget document, ignore the governor’s input, and start making some sort of plan that they have yet to articulate.
And in this, too, they are bucking not just Evers but the large majority of voters who say they want politicians to work collaboratively across the aisle to find solutions and pass legislation.
We’ve seen all of this before. In the last budget cycle, Republicans, treating Evers’ election as some sort of aberration they could freely ignore, summarily threw away his budget proposal, crafted with the input of citizens all over the state in budget listening sessions, and went “back to the base.”
Evers outsmarted them and line-item vetoed some extra money back into schools. Then he went on the road and celebrated the tax cuts in the budget, leaving Republicans sputtering that the tax cuts were their idea and how dare the governor take the credit?!
And that brings us back to the depressingly intractable situation we’re in today. Democrats complain that the Republicans have left them out of the budget process altogether. Republicans grandstand about throwing out Evers’ plan while producing nothing of their own. Now we’re all supposed to wait for them to come up with their own ideas which, they say, might possibly overlap with Evers’, but anything they’ve got in common will be purely coincidental since they deserve all the credit for their own ideas and would have us believe they didn’t even read those 545 budget items they eliminated in a single vote.
This is not how government is supposed to work.
Republican lawmakers have completely forgotten that their job is to hammer out proposals through debate and discussion with the other side; not grandstand and refuse to compromise so later they can hog all the credit.
They’ve been living in a gerrymandered state for so long they’ve forgotten what it was like to have to talk to a broad cross-section of voters about how to make progress on our common problems and achieve our common goals.
Now, sitting on top of a $7 billion surplus, all they can do is yell “No!” and refuse to fund popular initiatives just because the governor proposed them. The good news is that, whether or not they care to learn the lessons of their recent drubbing in the state Supreme Court race, the results are going to dynamite state Republicans out of their entrenched position.
There is likely to be a case on our rigged maps as soon as Janet Protasiewicz is seated in August. And if advocates achieve their goal of getting Wisconsin a new, fairer map, Republicans are going to have to start listening to voters — not just catering to the base in their carefully gerrymandered districts.
That’s going to change things for all of us, whether they’re ready for it or not.
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