Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers introduced his second biennial budget yesterday. Is there any strategic thinking that goes on in his office?
Evers’ budget was filled with Democratic wish list items, every one of which is surely to be dispatched swiftly by legislative Republicans without so much as a hearing. Legalizing marijuana, increasing the UW budget by twice as much as even the UW requested, repealing Act 10 and the so-called “right to work” law and on and on. These are all worthy goals that I support. But I also know they are not going to happen.
This follows a pattern. Evers did exactly the same thing two years ago. Republicans jettisoned every significant Evers proposal and essentially passed their own budget. Evers signed it after picking around the edges with some line item vetoes.
In the intervening couple of years, Evers has called several special legislative sessions, on everything from COVID to gun control, only to see the Republicans gavel them in and out in less time than it takes the Brewers to be eliminated from the playoffs.
I understand the governor’s need to satisfy Democratic constituencies. I also appreciate the argument that the party needs to state its agenda even if it has no chance of becoming law right now.
But, let’s face it, in this environment the governor’s budget is just a symbolic statement. And, by being summarily dismissed by Speaker Robin Vos and his party time after time, Evers is looking increasingly weak. If the strategy was to make the Republicans look like stubborn roadblocks to a popular agenda, well, there’s no evidence that it’s working. Thanks in some part to their safe, gerrymandered districts, the GOP shows no evidence of paying any price at all for blocking the governor’s agenda.
So, what’s to be done? Draw a line in the sand. Pick just a few high-impact, popular issues and refuse to sign any budget that comes back to his desk without them. My candidates are a fair legislative redistricting commission and Medicaid expansion. Both items poll at about 70% and have the support of virtually every newspaper editorial board in the state.
The redistricting commission is fundamental because it may end up being the only way to force fair maps and give the Democrats any chance at all to take by either house of the Legislature in the next decade.
The Medicaid expansion would provide coverage to thousands more Wisconsinites, improve public health and bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money (our own tax money that now goes to other states) to help balance the budget. (And that’s another thing. Evers’ proposal would take a projected $900 million surplus and turn it into a $900 million deficit. You can be sure that Vos will ignore everything else in Evers’ budget, but he’ll give that a whole lot of attention.)
Sure, the governor could still throw in all that other good stuff to placate the various groups that make up the Democratic coalition, but he should just focus on a couple of them. Not only would Evers advance two extremely important and popular policy items, but he would earn the grudging respect of Vos as a man that needs to be dealt with, instead of ignored.