Throughout the budget process, my Republican colleagues on the Joint Finance Committee repeatedly touted how eight years of Republican rule had “turned the state around.” Yet the facts reveal a starkly different picture.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, Wisconsin was 39th in the nation in private-sector job creation, compared with 11th in the nation in 2010. Over the last 10 years, our wage growth has lagged the national average. And recent studies show that we are losing highly educated workers while failing to attract families with children at past rates. To top it all off is eight years of Republicans prioritizing tax giveaways to millionaires over investments in our communities, our transportation system and our public schools.
It is against this backdrop that the people elected Gov. Tony Evers. And as soon as he was elected, Evers held listening sessions around the state to create the “people’s budget,” a budget that reflects the priorities of the actual people of our state. The first priority is to follow 37 other states including Washington, D.C., in expanding Medicaid. This would bring $1.6 billion of our federal tax dollars back to our state, while saving $324.5 million in state dollars and providing 82,000 low-income people with affordable health care.
The people’s budget also makes historic investments in public education. For K-12 schools, this means finally increasing special education reimbursement rates and providing mental health supports our students desperately need. For the University of Wisconsin System, this means funding the tuition freeze and making investments not just in the buildings where our students learn, but in what happens inside those buildings. Finally, the people’s budget fixes our transportation crisis with a modest gas tax increase, so those that use our roads — including those from Illinois and Minnesota — pay for the cost of maintaining them.
Evers accomplishes all of this while cutting income taxes for low- and middle-income people and lowering property taxes over the biennium when compared to current law.
For the first time in my tenure, my Republican colleagues have been forced by Evers and his popular budget to confront the actual priorities of the people. In a few areas, Republican legislators provide more funding than they would have ever considered absent Evers’ election, such as in the capital budget, which funds maintenance and enhancement projects for UW and other state buildings.
But for the most part, they continued on their wayward path, choosing politics over people. They could have funded the governor's $1.4 billion investment in our K-12 public schools. Instead, they cut his K-12 funding proposal by $900 million, choosing instead to protect $1.1 billion in tax giveaways for the wealthiest elite in our state. The UW System fared even worse. For the fifth straight budget, Republicans failed to fund a tuition freeze, and the new funding they provided does not even cover the cost of inflation. And they refused once more to propose a sustainable fix to our transportation crisis, while under-funding public transit.
And most significantly, despite strong public support and the massive state savings and influx of federal dollars it would bring, Republican legislators have refused to expand Medicaid. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, even went so far as to proclaim that he would rather die than provide health care that would actually save the life of a currently uninsured person.
The state of our state should have caused Republican legislators to change course. Instead, for the most part, they have doubled down on bad decision after bad decision. When legislators pick their voters, rather than the other way around, that is what the people get. Ironically, a provision to create a nonpartisan redistricting process was one of the first things Republicans removed from the people’s budget.
Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, is a Democratic member of the Wisconsin Assembly and a member of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.
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