Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week.
With the new year comes the beginning of Wisconsin’s biennial budget season. By far, the budget is the most important thing that the Legislature does. This budget is the third that will be negotiated between a Republican-led Legislature and Democrat Governor Tony Evers. The public positioning has already begun.
After the election in which the voters decided to continue with divided government by strengthening Republican legislative majorities and reelecting Governor Evers, the Republican legislative leaders floated a few ideas for compromise on education, taxes, and abortion policy. Governor Evers promptly rejected every idea.
As Evers begins his second term as governor, we have learned a few things about his character that should inform the budget process. First, Evers is a leftist ideologue. His worldview does not allow for compromise as evidenced by his immediate rejection of any olive branches. Second, he is untrustworthy. Remember that this is the same bloke who secretly recorded conversations with Republicans and released the recordings to the media for political gain. Third, Evers is not above taking credit for the work of others when it gives him political advantage. Evers ran on the fact that he signed a tax cut even though he opposed it every step of the way. Knowing Evers’ character and style of governing, legislative Republicans should take a bold, positive approach that seizes the initiative. Republicans must begin by forcing meaningful accountability for education.
As previously documented in in this column, the performance of the state’s government schools is abysmal and getting worse. Parents know it. Kids know it. Teachers know it. Evers’ unwavering support for a system that is systemically racist and broken is a travesty. Republicans must shift the discussion from funding (schools are already overfunded) to accountability. Wisconsinites have a strong tradition of investing in education and our schools should be held accountable to deliver a quality education for kids with that investment. Many of them do not. Accountability is sorely lacking in our government schools. The Legislature should use their power of the purse to force it.
It is clear from the election that Wisconsin’s abortion law is out of sync with the majority of the electorate. On principle, I cannot support any effort to soften a good law that protects babies. If Republicans were to pass a compromise bill that allows abortions up to 15 weeks, for example, it would be more in line with the Wisconsin electorate. Evers has promised to veto any such compromise because Evers is a passionate supporter of unrestricted abortion up to the point of birth. Republicans would do well to point out just how radically abhorrent Evers’ position on abortion is — especially in context of the important election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court that will be taking place at the same time as the budget debate.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has suggested that Wisconsin pass a fair flat income tax to replace its discriminatory progressive income tax. Evers rejected the idea out of hand in support of making the income tax even more discriminatory with a tax cut targeted at a subset of taxpayers. Republicans should go one step further and eliminate the state income tax completely using the project surplus combined with a minimal increase in the sales tax to rebalance the budget.
Eliminating the income tax would reshape the debate and force Evers to defend why Wisconsin should continue to tax retirees, small-business owners, remote employees who can work from anywhere, and everyone else while seven other states manage to operate their state governments without a state income tax. When Republicans are offering every Wisconsin taxpayer a substantial tax cut, Evers will be in a position of defending the status quo. Who knows? Maybe Evers will see the light and become the governor who eliminated the state income tax. One can hope.
One of the reasons that there was a Republican power outage in the November election is that Republicans in many states (Florida and Texas excluded) did not give their supporters a meaningful policy agenda about which to get excited. Wisconsin’s Republicans should use their legislative majorities to reframe the debate and lead from the front.