Moving Forward in Wisconsin

“I share the frustration, I think, of very many Americans, that when something is clear common sense, when there’s a great humanitarian need, somehow or another, it’s the conservative voice, the orthodox voice, the chauvinistic or the patriotic voice, that outshouts other people’s decent thinking processes…you begin to wonder whether decent liberal instincts, decent humanitarian instincts, can actually penetrate the right-wing voice…” – John Le Carre

This quote illuminates what is currently happening in Wisconsin. David Cornwell (pen name John Le Carre) died in 2020 at age 89. Democracy Now republished a 2010 interview with the famous British spy novelist. Like all great novelists, his stories are more than stories. They contain insights on life, war, politics, or human folly. The interview included many of his pearls of wisdom.

In Wisconsin, the chauvinistic, conservative – and I would add racist – voice of the Republican legislature is obstructing just about everything good for people. A number of “clearly common sense” actions are being blocked or ignored by political leadership who – as Jimmy Carter once said about Republicans – “are men of narrow vision, who are afraid of the future.”

In past articles, I have discussed how Republican policies hurt people. The Republican response to the pandemic is the most recent, and most egregious, example. On the advice of public health professionals, Governor Evers implemented proven and science based measures to control the spread of the COVID. Republicans undermined these simple, common sense actions every way they could. Now over 6,500 people have died from this disease.

Similarly, Governor Evers is attempting to move forward on a number of important issues facing Wisconsin residents. Many of these initiatives have wide public support and would be good for most of the people. But the Republican legislature is refusing to compromise, negotiate, or even consider his suggestions. Last year they refused to even meet as a legislature for 300 days. Several times, Evers called them into special session but they refused to do anything. One special session – to address police killings and racism in the justice system – was adjourned immediately and lasted one minute. This is not how responsible representatives of the people should behave.

This article looks at several of Evers’ more important proposals. Not everyone will support these proposals. But they all deserve an honest, good faith consideration by the legislature. Republicans have a responsibility to consider, debate, amend, compromise, accept, or even reject these proposals. But it is irresponsible to do nothing or to summarily declare them “dead on arrival” as Assembly leader Robin Vos said about Evers’ proposed budget.

K-12 Education Funding: Republicans have been cutting public school funding (and diverting public money to private schools) since Governor Walker was elected in 2010. This has created severe budget problems for local districts. Governor Evers is trying to repair the damage. His prior budget contained $1.4 billion for school aid. The legislature cut it in half. This year’s proposal increases state funding for K-12 schools by $1.6 billion for the two year budget. This would fund two-thirds of the public school budgets. This 2/3 benchmark was initiated by former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson in 1997 as a way to keep local property taxes low.

The people of Wisconsin want local public schools adequately funded. In response to crippling cuts in state aid many local school districts have been passing referendums to raise local taxes. Some of these referendums are for regular operating costs. Others are for new buildings and renovations. In last November’s election, 84% of these referendums passed.

Higher Education Costs: In 2018, Wisconsin college graduates had an average student load debt of $32,000. This debt is mostly incurred by students who are minorities, women, low-income, veterans, and first-generation college students. This debt limits individual’s financial futures, but also hurts the overall economy. Polls say a majority of people support debt free college.

Governor Evers has created a task force to investigate this problem and make recommendations. There are many factors to this problem, including the poor decisions made by students and a predatory student loan industry, but solutions are possible. Thirty five states have loan forgiveness or repayment programs. Evers’ budget increases state support for the university system by $192 million over the next two years. This continues the tuition freeze but provides $50 million to offset the lost tuition revenue.

Healthcare: Many Wisconsinites struggle with healthcare costs. Over 400,000 don’t have health insurance. Nationally, medical bills are the major cause of personal bankruptcy. Drug cost are high, especially for seniors. Governor Evers wants to help with these difficult and complicated issues.

Evers is again proposing an expansion of Medicaid. This would increase federal funding and save Wisconsin $634 million. It would cover 90,900 additional people plus expanding coverage and provide higher payments to hospitals and nursing homes. He also wants to expand mental health coverage under Medicaid.

Evers is proposing ways to lower prescription drug and other costs. He wants to create a state buying pool, import drugs from countries where they cost less, limit co-payments on insulin, and give more funding to free clinics to provide medications. He also wants to create a Wisconsin health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act to help control insurance costs. This would have a public option plan for people to buy into Badger Care.

As happened in 2019, the legislature is expected to oppose all these changes.

Other Proposals: Evers is proposing a wide variety of other improvements. These include automatic voter registration, increases in unemployment insurance payments, increasing the minimum wage, programs for rural development, expanding rural broadband access, criminal justice reforms, and addressing police accountability and racial inequality.

One toke over the line: Evers is proposing to legalize recreational marijuana. This is a long overdue, sensible reform, plus a way to increase state revenue, create jobs, and cut criminal justice costs. The plan would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol and generate $165 million each year for rural schools districts.

Moving forward on all these good, sensible proposals will require honest participation in governing by the Republican legislature. To make this happen, voters must hold their representatives accountable and demand responsible behavior.

On second thought …it might help to share a joint with them. Perhaps they would mellow and develop some “decent humanitarian instincts.”