We often use this space to criticize the Republican Party of Wisconsin for putting the interests of its wealthy supporters above those of voters. So it’s with pleasure that we acknowledge the integrity a number of GOP lawmakers have shown in standing up to Gov. Scott Walker’s wrecking-ball of a budget.
To clarify, WiG does not support the budget in its current state, and no one knows exactly what the final budget will look like when it comes to a vote in early June. Between now and then, there will be a lot of horse-trading on budgetary items.
But we applaud the wrangling. In 2011, Walker presented a drastic budget that his Republican majority rubber-stamped without debate or analysis. The results were disastrous.
This year, confronted with a budget that’s even more destructive, GOP leaders have balked. They’ve listened to thousands of Wisconsinites who’ve turned out for public hearings and listening sessions on the budget and they’ve concluded that some of its key proposals would cause great harm to the state without providing in return a sustainable solution for resolving Walker’s self-created budget crisis.
GOP lawmakers have learned a lot by listening: that Wisconsinites value education over tax rebates for already profitable corporations; that citizens treasure our natural resources and want them maintained for future generations; that people across the political spectrum are outraged over Walker’s proposal to eliminate popular grassroots programs enabling the elderly and disabled to remain in their homes. (That last proposal will not save the state a dollar and has already cost Wisconsin 700 jobs, but it frees up millions for Walker to award to his for-profit insurance industry cronies.)
Polling has confirmed voter resistance to key budget proposals. A Marquette University Law School poll found 70 percent oppose Walker’s plan to cut University of Wisconsin funding by $300 million, while only 26 percent support it. The poll found 78 percent oppose Walker’s plan to reduce funding for K-12 schools by another $127 million. Sixty percent of those polled oppose Walker’s plan to make the Department of Natural Resources an advisory board — a plan that Republicans in the Legislature have already stripped from the budget.
And 54 percent of voters oppose Walker’s plan eliminating enrollment limits in the private school voucher program, another item that GOP lawmakers have already said will not be adopted as proposed.
To their credit and the state’s benefit, GOP legislative leaders have indicated that none of these proposals will be enacted as proposed. And they will succeed: Walker is eager to move forward with his presidential campaign and he’s not likely to risk a protracted, high-profile battle over positions that appeal only to fringe-right Republican Iowa caucus voters.
In an aside, GOP legislators also appear poised to prevent a repeal of the state’s “prevailing wage” law. Enacted in 1931, the law ensures that government contractors must pay standard wages to workers, which prevents underbidding on projects by businesses that don’t pay for skilled labor. The result is shoddy public works, fewer consumer dollars circulating in the economy and downward pressure on the pay scale for everyone.
For the first time since Walker took office, we see meaningful bipartisan dialogue occurring in Madison. It appears that Republican lawmakers are seriously considering input from the other of the aisle.
To be sure, the state has far to go in bridging the political divide created by Walker’s self-professed “divide-and-conquer” strategy. Gerrymandering has given the Republicans an ironclad majority, an unhealthy political situation that enables autocratic rule.
But just as we’re experiencing the first mild breezes of spring, we can sense something of a thaw in Madison that gives us hope.