The only thing that may be more anemic than Wisconsin’s performance on job creation over six years of Scott Walker’s administration is the political influence the governor now wields over his fellow Republicans in control of the state Legislature.
Tension between the executive and legislative branches of government is natural, and by design, even in cases when one party controls all levers of power. But the stagnating 2017 state budget and the accompanying flurry of publicly traded insults, threats and rejections of major gubernatorial policy initiatives can be traced to the political weakness of Gov. Scott Walker.
From the get-go it was apparent that Republicans in the Legislature are weary of Walker’s propensity to put his own political ambitions before all else.
A transportation budget constructed on platitudes and designed for paving the way to the re-election of Scott Walker instead of addressing the serious crises of road conditions and road funding was rejected out of hand by Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly. They have instead determined they will work from current law and come up with their own plan.
In recent days, funding for K-12 schools has become another point of intraparty discord. Despite all conspiring together to enact the largest cuts to public education in state history, Walker and the legislative Republicans are now fighting among themselves over who will save our schools from the politicians' mutual actions.
Not only have Speaker Robin Vos and his fellow Assembly Republicans rolled out their own education budget, they’re criss-crossing the state holding media events to promote their repudiation of their fellow Republican, the governor. On top of it, it was reported in the news that Vos was a no-show to a backroom negotiating session with Walker and Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald due to a “previous commitment.”
Not to be outdone by their Assembly Republican colleagues, the Senate Republicans have indicated that they may simply go it alone and, instead of working through the committee process, introduce their very own budget plan.
Walker himself has become an insult in the war of words among legislative Republicans. As if their education budget press conference was not provocative enough, Republican Assembly Speaker Vos attacked the Republican leader of the Senate by referring to him being a “rubber-stamp” for Governor Walker, and not in the good way.
What leadership has Gov. Walker shown to rise above the infighting and repudiation of major sections of his budget by fellow Republicans? None.
He has instead issued a weak, gimmicky threat to “veto the entire budget” and holds lonely roadside press conferences at which he touts his doomed transportation plan. In perhaps the most stark indication of how low Scott Walker has sunk with his fellow Republicans, he’s even had to resort to deploying longtime special interest allies to run paid advertising to convince fellow Republicans to … support a tax cut?!?!
It is nearly inevitable that at some point a 2017 state budget will be passed in the Senate and Assembly and signed into law by the governor. Those responsible for it will no doubt tout their great achievement and credit themselves for their work. But as amply demonstrated by the events to date, it will not be the result of Scott Walker’s leadership or ability to impose his political will on his party.
Jenni Dye is One Wisconsin Now’s research director and an attorney.
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