The clashing of egos at the state Capitol has turned the budgeting process into a finger-pointing spectacle, culminating last week with Gov. Tony Evers’ spokeswoman accusing GOP leaders of disrespecting women.
Melissa Baldauff blamed sexism for the lack of progress on budget negotiations. She said GOP leaders are “clearly uncomfortable or simply unwilling to work with a leadership team made up entirely of women.”
The accusation follows weeks of GOP leaders casting dispersion on parts of Evers’ budget proposal, calling them “wacky” and “crazy.”
This isn’t the sort of rhetoric that leads to compromise.
Still, there are reasons to be hopeful and to believe this latest round of sniping is only political theater. There are some intractable differences, such as over Medicaid expansion, but Democrats and Republicans agree on more issues than either side lets on.
In particular, we suspect Republicans would be more willing to embrace Evers’ transportation proposal if it had former Gov. Scott Walker’s name on it.
Likewise, we suspect Republicans would be keener to support school funding increases if the proposal had come from Walker.
Both Republicans and Democrats are on record admitting the state’s roads are in poor condition. Many of them agree a gas tax and/or heavy-truck fee increase are necessary. Indeed, the state Assembly considered such hikes during the 2017 session but backed away after Walker announced his opposition.
And it was only in the last election that Walker branded himself as the state’s “pro-education governor,” a label his opponents believed ironic given Walker’s moves to enact Act 10, effectively eliminating teachers’ ability to collectively bargaining. But Walker also pushed for a $649 million increase in education funding in the 2017 budget, a move Evers, the state superintendent at the time, supported.
Democrats and Republican agree education funding increases are needed, and so compromising on a dollar figure shouldn’t be an insurmountable task. Both parties are headed in the same direction.
But to agree on a budget before the June 30 deadline, both sides will need to check their attitudes and focus more on the common ground. (Reforms to the juvenile justice system and funding increases for public defenders are other areas of bipartisan agreement.)
The Legislature must recognize single-party control, which it enjoyed over much of Walker’s tenure, is the governing exception, not the rule. To dismiss Evers’ proposals simply because he’s not Scott Walker is no way to negotiate.
Evers must remember he wasn’t elected with a mandate. He narrowly defeated Walker, and so to expect a Republican-controlled Legislature, still smarting from Walker’s defeat, to bend to his will is not realistic.
The budgeting process begs for more cooperation and less ego. It requires more restraint and less grandstanding.
We need serious negotiators.
Who will step up?