My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:
For the first time in our lifetimes, Wisconsin can be officially declared a Republican state. Not only did Donald Trump win at the top of the ballot, but it was a strong Republican sweep all the way down the ballot. In many cases, the Republican candidate not only won, but won with margins much higher than expected. Republicans in Wisconsin now have to justify the support they received from the voters.
Going into last week’s election, many people speculated that Trump would be a drag on other Republicans because many conservatives in the Republican stronghold of Southeast Wisconsin were tepid, or outright opposed, Trump. The results show while Trump built his win in Wisconsin on a coalition of nontraditional Republican voters and a strong turnout in rural areas, most other state Republicans won by an even stronger margin of more traditional Republican voters.
For example, in Outagamie County Trump won with 54.2 percent of the vote — outperforming Mitt Romney in 2012. But Senator Ron Johnson won Outagamie County with 56.9 percent of the vote and in the highly contested 8th Congressional District race, Republican Mike Gallagher won with 60 percent of the vote. The same story plays out all over the state with more traditional and conservative Republicans outperforming Trump. This Republican wave has also given the Republicans their strongest majorities in many years in the state legislature. Despite projections that the Democrats might win a majority of the state Senate and erode the Republican majority in the state Assembly, the opposite occurred. In both the Senate and the Assembly, Republicans increased their majorities by one seat in each chamber. This election is a resounding endorsement of the Republican agenda that has been working for Wisconsin for the last five years.
As Republicans in the state Legislature begin to settle into their larger majorities and consider the opportunities it presents, the trial balloons are beginning to float out of Madison. One of those balloons needs to be popped immediately. Some Republicans in the legislature are already talking about increasing state spending on K-12 education. Not only would increasing spending be a reversal of the conservative policies that have led to Republicans’ electoral success, it would undermine Walker’s signature law just as the election proved again that it is working.
Besides the various politicians on the ballot in Wisconsin last week, there were 67 referendums put forth by school districts. Of those 67 referendums, the voters approved 55 of them for almost $804 million in increased spending. This is evidence of Act 10 working as designed.
One of the tradeoffs of Act 10 was that the state would restrain or reduce state spending on K-12 education in exchange for giving school districts more power to manage their budgets and the ability to ask the local voters for more money through the referendum process if they needed more money to spend. By pushing the power and responsibility of sensible fiscal management to the local districts, the state gave each district’s citizens the ability to tailor the size, structure, and expense of their school district to their liking.
It is working. Some school districts have used Act 10 to their benefit more than others, but no school district can be said to have fully utilized the tools available to them. Still, there are creative and effective reforms taking place in districts all over Wisconsin. Even after that, some school districts thought that they needed more money, so they asked the voters for additional funds through the referendum process. In most cases last week, the voters agreed and gave their school districts more money to spend. While I may disagree with some of those decisions, it was not my decision to make. If people in Germantown and Kewaskum want to tax themselves more so that their school boards can spend more, that is their business. I am perfectly content making sure that my local school district stays more fiscally responsible.
Why would state legislators want to undermine the bargain of Act 10 by increasing state spending on K-12? To the citizens in districts that just decided to increase their own taxes and spending with a referendum, state lawmakers would be layering even more burden on them to pay for more spending in districts that did not ask for it. For those of us citizens who live in districts that are trying to control our district’s spending, lawmakers would be telling us that our fiscal restraint is not appreciated by forcing us to pay for more spending for which we did not ask.
In order to continue to allow Act 10 to work, legislators must restrain state spending on K-12 and let local voters raise their own taxes if they so choose. If they decide to increase state K-12 spending on top of the $804 million just approved by the taxpayers, Wisconsin will never bring its tax burden in line with the rest of the country.
State Republicans have earned increasing majorities thanks to their steadfast advancement of conservative policies. Now is not the time to go wobbly.