The Republican-run Legislature last week took more than 100 of the Democratic governor’s proposals out of his state budget request.
That’s not surprising. The GOP was never going to allow higher taxes on manufacturers, who regularly back Republicans in elections and who have enjoyed lots of tax breaks from conservatives at the statehouse.
Republicans were never going to allow a significantly higher minimum wage, marijuana possession or a cap on enrollment in the private-school voucher program, which are perennial wedge issues for partisans on both sides.
Republicans who control the Legislature’s budget committee also removed dozens of non-fiscal policy items from Gov. Tony Evers’ budget that had little or nothing to do with spending money, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. That was a welcome move. Non-fiscal policy should stand on its own merits as individual bills, rather than being tucked into a giant state budget to avoid scrutiny and tough votes.
This includes legislation to create a nonpartisan and neutral process for drawing voting districts after the 2020 census, similar to Iowa’s good-government model for fair maps. Ending gerrymandering has long been a priority for our editorial board, regardless of which political party is in charge. And we will continue to advocate for it as stand-alone legislation.
We’re happy to see the GOP warming to a modest increase in the state gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in more than a decade. The extra revenue will allow Wisconsin to finally fix its crumbling roads, which rank among the worst in the nation.
The biggest mistake Republicans have made so far, as they begin to change Gov. Evers’ $83.5 billion budget proposal, is their rejection of hundreds of millions of federal dollars for a Medicaid expansion benefiting low-income residents who would gain access to better health care coverage. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau, which doesn’t play political games with its numbers, has estimated the state could have saved more than $1 billion since 2014 had it taken the Medicaid money.
If the Republicans aren’t moved by calls to improve health care for the less fortunate, they should at least respect the financial incentives for the state. The state could collect hundreds of millions of dollars if it expands Medicaid in the coming two years and free up additional state money for other purposes.
Republicans in other parts of the country have taken the federal dollars. Wisconsin’s Legislature should, too.
Claims that that federal stream of funding will run dry have proven false. And that was the main Republican argument against accepting more money.
Both partisan sides in this debate now have dueling studies speculating on the pros and cons of a Medicaid expansion. The health care industry is complicated, and expectations don’t always pan out.
Yet this much is clear: The state under Republicans has turned down lots of federal money in a variety of ways, largely for political reasons—and that needs to stop. As the state budget process moves forward, the GOP should make the financially smart decision to expand Medicaid and improve the health of Wisconsin families.