With their dream of booting Gov. Scott Walker from office finally realized, Wisconsin unions are no doubt yearning to check off some items from a long-held to-do list.
Restore prevailing wages. Repeal right to work and Act 10. Eliminate recent prohibitions on local governments’ ability to use project-labor agreements.
Meanwhile state Republicans have their confidence little diminished after the predicted “blue wave” proved to be much weaker than many expected. The GOP is already showing a distressing hankering for obstruction. Walker had scarcely conceded his loss this week when Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced he would consider taking up legislation to curtail the new governor’s powers.
Both sides would do well to step back and remember that there are voters out there who want to see more out of the next two years than partisan bickering. Yes, believe it or not, at least some part of the public really expects lawmakers to use their time in office to accomplish something.
When government is divided, as Wisconsin’s soon will be, the only way to make any kind of advancement is through compromise. The current situation gives each of the two parties a choice: Democrats can pursue policies that have no chance of being adopted by a Republican-controlled Legislature. And Republicans — perhaps with an eye already on reclaiming the governor’s office in 2022 — can respond by pinning the blame for the resulting gridlock exclusively on Evers.
Or they can try to seek out some common ground.
Where might that be found? The most obvious place is with infrastructure, where all the pieces are already in place for a deal.
Walker, long the biggest obstacle to trying to raise revenue to put the state’s transportation on a more solid footing, is no longer in the picture. Meanwhile, many of his fellow Republicans, particularly in the state Assembly, have already acknowledged that the state can’t simply continue on its same path and expect things to get better.
As for the Democrats, Evers’ campaign got a considerable boost this election from groups calling for a plan to responsibly pay for road projects. The people making the most noise were those behind Safe Transportation Over Politics, with its “Scott-Holes” campaign lampooning Walker’s past transportation budgets. But there were plenty of other critics, including former Wisconsin Department of Transportation Mark Gottlieb.
On this much the two sides have already agreed: Everything should be up for discussion — including increases in the state’s gas tax or vehicle-registration fees. Now it’s just a matter of settling on a plan and building support for it.
That’s a big task, to be sure. The two parties should approach it knowing full well that the surest way to guarantee failure will be to present a divided front.
Gas-tax increases remain stubbornly hard to get passed. In Missouri on Tuesday, voters rejected a proposal that would have raised that state’s gas tax for the first time since 1996.
As for Wisconsin, which hasn’t had a gas-tax increase since 2006, recent polls suggest that although voters aren’t exactly pleased with the condition of the roads, they also aren’t enthusiastic about higher taxes. Getting the public to go along with a hike will take a great deal of skillful persuasion on the part of office holders.
Even the strongest arguments will be undermined if lawmakers start pointing fingers and letting the accusations fly. Since it’s the governor’s responsibility to introduce a draft version of state budget every year, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which Evers would be the first to propose a gas-tax increase and then get immediately attacked by Republicans.
But before Republicans get hell-bent on blocking Evers at every turn, they might look for a little lesson in compromise from a surprising source: Washington, D.C.
When asked this week what policies the Republicans who control the U.S. Senate might be able to advance with U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and the other newly empowered Democrats in the House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately lit on infrastructure.
If politicians in hyper-partisan Washington, D.C., can see room for compromise, there’s no reason why their counterparts in Madison shouldn’t be able to do the same.