Walters: Assembly Republicans try again to upstage Walker
For the second time in two years, Republicans who control the Assembly have attempted to steal the next state budget spotlight from their party’s leader, Gov. Scott Walker.
With the announcement of their 30-page Forward agenda last week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and his leadership team moved to one-up Walker on new budget initiatives almost six months before he gives his formal 2017-19 spending plan to the new Legislature.
Officially, Assembly Republicans say they need to give their candidates on Nov. 8 a preview of next session’s goals to convince voters why their party should keep running half of the Legislature. Republicans privately expect to lose a few seats on Nov. 8, but political pros say their 63-36 chokehold on the Assembly is not in doubt.
Unofficially, the Forward agenda advises Walker to include most of it in his budget, or the Assembly will add what he doesn’t. Basically, Forward tells the two-term governor: “Assembly Republicans have ideas. You just fill in the numbers.”
An example: Assembly Republicans want more police officers for Milwaukee, where protesters burned down six businesses in August after the fatal shooting of a fleeing suspect who police say was armed.
The Forward blueprint says: “Milwaukee police have deemed August 2016 the deadliest month in 25 years. Our largest city is facing a serious challenge… A safer Milwaukee is in the state’s best interest. It is clear that more police officers need to be on the streets and criminal behavior must be punished accordingly.”
If Walker and Assembly Republicans were on the same page, Team Vos and the governor would hold a Milwaukee press conference to promise (1) the governor’s budget will include more Milwaukee police officers and (2) Assembly Republicans will make sure that is part of the budget they pass.
Instead, on the day Assembly Republicans introduced the Forward agenda in the Capitol, Walker worked two other media markets—Green Bay and Milwaukee—to announce that his budget will propose a back-to-school “sales tax holiday” in August 2017.
Walker’s office announced his two “tax holiday” appearances about four hours after Vos’s office alerted news organizations to the Forward rollout.
Ironically, the back-to-school sales tax holiday, which would save parents about $12 million, is also part of the Assembly Republicans’ agenda.
The Forward blueprint widened the gap between Assembly Republicans and Walker on how to pay for highways and transportation programs.
Despite a projected $939-million deficit in the Transportation Fund by mid-2019, Walker has doubled down on his promise to not raise the 30.9-cent gas tax and/or the $75 annual vehicle registration, unless increases are offset by other spending or tax cuts.
That’s not leadership, Assembly Republicans say: “Roads and infrastructure are one of the fundamental responsibilities of government and Assembly Republicans are committed to growing our economy by meeting [those] needs…We will work hard to put in place a solution that will resolve our funding deficit for future generations.
“User fees are an equitable way to recoup the costs associated with the wear and tear that users put on our infrastructure. Wisconsin can ensure that these user fees are fair, while committing to keep them below our neighboring states.”
Other Forward goals:
--Boosting state aid for schools so every high school freshmen has a computer or tablet.
--Raising the criminal sentences for serious crimes, while lowering them for minor ones. It’s unclear whether that package could mean the release of inmates serving sentences for some non-violent crimes.
--“Certificates of Qualification” for those convicted of a crime who learn a skill or trade.
--A Teacher Protection Act and specialized training for “anyone looking to teach in an urban environment.”
--Creation of a Long-Term Care Investment Fund to help pay future medical bills and delay when someone must rely on Medicaid for health care.
--Challenging the UW System to make sure “diverse perspectives” are welcome throughout all 26 campuses.
Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca said the GOP Forward plan includes “almost no new ideas to address the significant problems.”
And, Barca said, it’s more important to ask what future changes Republicans plan that they didn’t announce last week. Two years ago, Barca noted, Assembly Republicans didn’t promise to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state and repeal a law specifying wages paid on public works projects. Both those became law.
Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at email@example.com