The State of Our State

By Mike McCabe

A response to the dueling “State of the State” speeches given by Governor Tony Evers and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Our nation’s politics is on a bullet train to crazy town. The armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that sought to violently overthrow our republic leaves all of us nervously wondering what additional horrors await us in the days to come.

The toxic partisanship, divisiveness, polarization and political dysfunction on display nationally have infected our state politics. In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, no legislative action whatsoever has been taken since April dealing with this public health emergency and providing some relief to those who’ve lost employment, lost health insurance and face losing their homes. The state of our state government is paralyzed. This political paralysis leaves Wisconsin stuck in a rut and more directionless than it has been in a very, very long time.

Wisconsin is not dealing with health insecurity magnified by the pandemic and is not acting decisively to cure what ails our sick health care system. Wisconsin is not addressing glaring and growing economic inequality. Wisconsin is not responding constructively to widespread civil unrest all across the country and right here in our state, and is not coming to terms with the underlying social and racial injustices fueling these disturbances. Wisconsin is not acting boldly in response to the climate crisis.

The governor calling the legislature into special session is not the answer. Obstructionist legislative leaders have shown repeatedly they will gavel in and gavel out without acting. Ruling Republicans will not pass legislation of any importance that the Democratic governor wants. The governor will veto any legislation of importance passed by the legislature. The result is inaction on the biggest problems facing our state. Paralysis.

The one possible path to progress is the state budget process. The budget is the one and only bill that really needs to pass every two years, and a new one is due to be enacted this year. The governor will make his budget request next month and what he proposes will be pronounced dead on arrival in the do-nothing legislature…unless the governor employs a strikingly different strategy than he did two years ago, one that compels legislators to negotiate with him in good faith.

When he campaigned for the office, the governor promised to phase out taxpayer-funded subsidies for private schools. When the voucher system that delivers these subsidies was created some 30 years ago, proponents claimed it would boost student achievement and improve the quality of both public and private schools. The program has failed to deliver these results. When programs work, they should be continued and funded. When they fail, they should be ended. The governor should keep his campaign promise and eliminate funding for this failed program in his budget proposal.

Despite the private school voucher scheme’s failures, Republicans who control the legislature love the program. If the governor proposes eliminating funding for it, they will surely work to restore that funding. The governor, however, could use his veto authority to overturn that legislative action, and Republicans do not have the supermajorities in both houses needed to override that veto. If they want the governor’s approval of some funding for their pet program, they will have to grant him some of his wishes. Maybe this is how Wisconsin can get long overdue Medicaid expansion to insure more people during this pandemic.

While he’s at it, the governor could keep his word to close down the state’s corporate welfare office. The governor also could work at keeping another of his campaign promises to cut the state’s prison population in half and propose more funding for the UW System than for prisons. He could stand with Mr. Republican himself, former Governor Tommy Thompson, and propose turning one of our prisons into a college. Legislative Republicans are heavily invested in corporate welfare and surely will balk at its elimination, but maybe the threat of it is the way they can be prompted to cooperate in acting to remedy the shameful fact that more of Wisconsin’s state budget is spent on prisons than on the entire state university system. 

Keep your promises, governor, and provide the kind of leadership and pioneering spirit that Wisconsin once had and that made our state a progressive beacon for the rest of the nation to follow.    

Mike McCabe is the Executive Director of Our Wisconsin Revolution. Top image credit: Michael Howe/CC BY-SA 3.0.

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