Wisconsin legislators fail to represent constituents yet again

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There are three things that voters throughout Wisconsin, whether they live in a red district or a blue district, agree on: increasing the minimum wage, expanding access to Medicaid, and non-partisan redistricting. When non-binding referendums to expand Medicaid and raise the minimum wage appeared on the ballot, voters overwhelmingly showed their support for these actions, just as they have when resolutions for non-partisan redistricting appeared on ballots. Despite voters wanting these things, Republican legislators stand in stark opposition to all of them.

In May, Republican legislators voted against accepting $1 billion in federal funding to expand Medicaid. The reason they gave for doing so was that people who buy their insurance would then have to pay more because Medicaid doesn’t pay as much to clinics and hospitals as many other insurers.

This argument requires a huge leap in logic, one where we are supposed to believe that people who would qualify for Medicaid if there was an expansion currently have other insurance or pay their medical bills in full, ignoring the reality that if a person is unable to pay, they don’t pay. It is better for people who must purchase insurance to pick up part of a bill instead of the whole bill. But then logic is something that many Republican legislators avoid in order to stay in office.

Recently Senators Howard Marklein and Robin Vos authored Workforce Recovery legislation in response to a worker shortage. Was this a measure to increase wages in order to make re-entry into the workforce more lucrative? No. It is a measure to strip away pandemic unemployment. The two Senators state that employers in their districts have already increased wages but that the income can’t compete with the generous federal unemployment payouts that nearly double the normal unemployment benefit. So then, what dollar figure is it that cannot compete with COVID era unemployment benefits?

Wisconsin has a lower maximum unemployment benefit than many other states, set at $370 per week. Unemployment is based on past wages, so people who previously had low-income, would not receive anywhere near that amount. A full time minimum wage earner could expect a weekly benefit rate of $156. For these workers, the additional money from the federal government increases their quarterly income by over $2,000. If these workers received an equivalent amount of income from a job, they would then be earning $23,712 annually before taxes. This figure is hardly exorbitant. It is $11.40 per hour; it isn’t even up to the amount that gets proposed as what the minimum wage should be. If this amount is enough to improve quality of life and provide an actual living wage, then our legislators should go about solving the worker shortage by demanding this be our new minimum wage.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program that adds an additional $300 per week to a person’s unemployment is set to expire in September, but that isn’t soon enough for these Senators.

The aim of this legislation is to force people into accepting low wages as they become more desperate for income. In the state of Wisconsin, no one receiving unemployment has to accept work that pays less than their previous employment, so there should be no question as to who this bill is targeting.

The work search requirement for unemployment is being restored as the number of COVID-19 cases decrease. This alone would be enough to encourage the unemployed to re-enter the workforce, but why should Marklein and Vos squander an opportunity for cruelty. Employers in their district say that they can’t compete with anything resembling a living wage, and that is what matters.

In a time when voters want to see an end to gerrymandering, Republican legislators are spending $1 million of taxpayer dollars to hire legal counsel to oppose redistricting maps that are being generated by a non-partisan committee given feedback from voters. They are not waiting to see the maps to decide that they disapprove. Gerrymandering has made the Wisconsin GOP drunk with power, so the idea of adopting redistricting maps that do anything but guarantee victory for their side meets their disapproval.

Too many media outlets are all too happy to run the press releases they receive from members of the Assembly and Senate verbatim instead of taking a little extra time to investigate what is really going on. When news media outlets engage in such laziness, is it any wonder that we have so many people in our state, and in our country, who are so out of touch with reality that they actually believe that an insurrection was nothing more than a Capitol tour.

There is a huge disconnect that happens when people who support raising the minimum wage, Medicaid expansion, and non-partisan redistricting vote for candidates that oppose all three. It becomes the responsibility of the news media to address this disconnect in an effort to pursue the truth. If that means calling out one political party, that is what a journalist must do.