This Budget Wasn’t Bipartisan

Gov. Tony Evers called the budget he signed last week “bipartisan.” No, it wasn’t.

Look, this budget was written by Speaker Robin Vos and the Republicans after they tossed Evers’ proposal out in its entirety. Not a single one of Evers’ major initiatives was included. Funding for K-12 education, the UW system, special ed and the Stewardship Fund was all a fraction of what Evers had proposed. His proposals to raise the minimum wage, legalize pot, reverse Act 10, expand the state’s Family & Medical Leave act, and a whole lot more were stripped out in an instant.

The centerpiece of the Republican budget was a massive tax cut, weighted toward the rich. And it’s that tax cut that Evers is trying to lay claim to by calling this a bipartisan document. I don’t know. Maybe he’s on to something because he sure as heck did get under their skin.

“Governor Tony Evers deserves NO credit for signing our budget,” Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said in a statement. “This was not a bipartisan process of colleagues sharing ideas. He got boxed into a corner and rather than fight for his unpopular budget and risk a political knockout, he and his team threw in the towel and signed our responsible budget.”

Testy, testy, testy. But also pretty much accurate.

Evers’ evidence for his claim is that seven Democrats voted for the Republican’s blue print and he, a Democrat, signed it. But LeMahieu was right when he said that, “This was not a bipartisan process of colleagues sharing ideas.” The fact that LeMahieu seems to be touting the fact that he wouldn’t share ideas in a bipartisan process and in collegial manner is just more evidence of what’s become of the Republican Party these days, but that’s not my main point.

My main point is that if Evers was respected by Vos and LeMahieu there would have been those bipartisan negotiations. Evers may have even empowered the Democratic minorities to get some leverage for some of their own initiatives. Office lamps would have burned late into the night. Fists would have slammed on desks. Ultimatums would have been hurled back and forth. Unlit cigars would have been chomped. Cocktails might have been consumed, though in moderation.

And in the end, deals would have been hammered out by sides that, though they strongly disagreed about what was best for the state, ultimately respected each other.

This did not happen. Evers and Vos barely talk. There seems to be absolutely no understanding or rapport between them. They don’t respect one another and they sure don’t seem to like one another.

That would be bad enough if Vos didn’t have the upper hand. But Vos runs circles around Evers to the extent that the Governor doesn’t even seem to be in the game.

You can tell that these guys may disagree but they like and respect one another. This is what real bipartisanship looks like.

Contrast that with the true bipartisan negotiation between Joe Biden and a group of Senate Republicans and Democrats. They worked out a $1.2 trillion deal in which both parties gave. Biden came down from $2.3 trillion while the Republicans came up from about $500 billion. Definitions of what constituted true “infrastructure” were debated and agreements were arrived at to include more things than the Republicans wanted but fewer than the Democrats asked for.

Items that weren’t part of the agreement were shipped off to the next big spending bill coming down the line, where Democrats reserve the right to use a budget maneuver to pass it with just their own votes. Biden messed up by being a little too explicit about that in an off the cuff statement, but he cleaned it up quickly (by saying he didn’t mean what he clearly said) and the deal is back on.

I’m struck by a picture taken in the White House driveway after the deal was announced. You can see the respect that the Republican Senators have for their old colleague, the President.

Now, sure, Biden has a big advantage in his slim majorities in both houses, while Evers labors against huge, gerrymandered Republican majorities. That’s why Evers had to use the total budget veto. That was the hammer that would have forced Vos to negotiate in this budget had Evers used it two years ago in his first budget. And a complete veto still would have worked this time.

Of course this would have delayed the budget, and sure, it would have created some acrimony. But more acrimony than we have now? I don’t think so. If Evers had first laid down the principle that the Office of the Governor would be treated with respect (or else) we’d have a better state government right now. It might have even produced a bipartisan budget.

Welcome to the 147th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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