In about two months, some Wisconsin lawmakers will send out press releases praising the Legislature for trying to direct 1 percent of state spending to businesses owned by disabled veterans.
Such releases will appear soon after Gov. Scott Walker signs two companion bills now moving through the Legislature. Those bills have bipartisan support and no public opposition.
They are appealing because concern for disabled veterans is one of the very few areas of bipartisan, if not universal, agreement. And they are automatic “Aye” votes for career-driven lawmakers who suspect that voting against such bills is the political equivalent of taping “kick me” signs to their backs.
Granted, the 1 percent is an arbitrary number, but it sidesteps skepticism because it would be no more than a goal. It also has the advantage of replacing a fuzzy state law that skips the numbers and simply tells agencies to do, um, something for companies owned by disabled veterans.
Circumstances are lining up to present lawmakers a “Don’t think, just vote” moment.
Someone in the Legislature needs to stop and think.
Veterans have earned every benefit that can be offered. They deserve society’s thanks for the sacrifices they have made.
But bending the principles of affirmative action is the wrong way to show that gratitude.
Governments at all levels reserve portions of contracts for classes of people who traditionally have faced discrimination and for small businesses that need help establishing themselves in a market. The money directed to those groups is an equalizer.
Anyone who owns a small business could qualify already for those government benefits. And “anyone” includes disabled veterans.
So the logic of reserving the additional 1 percent demands that disabled veterans have been subjected to more discrimination than those who are disabled and not veterans.
Lawmakers have shown no evidence that is the case.
Certainly, there is a sound argument that people with disabilities deal with discrimination when trying to get work. But the prejudice is based on the disability rather than on how it came about.
Still, lawmakers probably will ignore that distinction. It is more difficult, though, to avoid the most prominent number connected to the proposal: 45.
Forty-five Wisconsin-based, disabled-veteran-owned companies are registered with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, which offers set-aside contract benefits to them. The state should expect about the same number of companies registering for the 1 percent.
Assuming one disabled veteran is at the helm of each business, it is possible that only 45 people would benefit.
Surely, lawmakers can do better than that.
The state already has a law that tries to apply affirmative action principles. To work on a state contract, a company must try to have a workforce that mirrors the surrounding labor market’s percentages of women, minorities and people with disabilities. If lawmakers want to do more, they should explore ways to give that 1 percent of contracts to companies whose workforces exceed by a certain amount the percentage of disabled people in the market.
Broadening the scope of the proposal would not deprive disabled veterans. In fact, it would do the opposite because the bills would focus on the many who work for companies rather than the few who own them.
Such a proposal requires a sacrifice from lawmakers. They no longer could claim in their press releases to be helping only disabled veterans. But the law would end up helping more of them.