13 Issues for Walker, Legislators
Who won, who lost on 13 key issues in 2017-2018 legislative session?
Legislators ended the regular 2017-18 session and went home. So who decided 13 controversial issues – Republican Gov. Scott Walker or Republicans who control the Assembly and Senate? Let’s consider the list of items:
1. Foxconn: Walker asked the Legislature to approve almost $3 billion in tax breaks if Foxconn hires up to 13,000 Wisconsin workers in Racine County and invests up to $10 billion in manufacturing plants. In all, state and local governments will invest more than $4 billion to bring the technology giant to Wisconsin. The Legislature made all of Walker’s Foxconn wishes come true. Deciding force: Governor.
2. Health-care reinsurance: Up to 225,000 Wisconsin residents who must buy health care on Affordability Care Act marketplaces got hit with huge rate increases this year. So Walker, an Obamacare opponent, pivoted and got the Legislature to budget $200 million – $150 million in federal funds and $50 million in Medicaid savings – to cover their most expensive health-care bills. Skeptical legislators finally agreed. Deciding force: Governor.
3. Juvenile-justice reforms: After horror stories of mismanagement, assault and injury at state prisons for juveniles, legislators pushed to close the northern Wisconsin facilities by 2021. Senate and Assembly disagreed over what to do after 2021, however. Walker was late to this issue, first saying it should be part of the 2019-21 state budget. Deciding force: Legislators from both parties.
4. Safer schools: Days after 17 shooting deaths at a Parkland, Fla., high school, and keep-us-safe rallies by high school students, Walker announced a $100-million grant program to make schools safer. Republican legislators turned aside Democrats’ push for tougher gun laws and accepted the governor’s plan to have the state Justice Department administer the grants. Deciding force: Governor.
6. Welfare reform: In his State of the State speech, Walker said, “We want able-bodied, working age adults to work at least 30 hours a week or enroll in job training to get public assistance…And we want to ensure that everyone getting public assistance can pass a drug test.” If the federal government agrees, these changes will become law. Driving force: Governor.
7. Self-insure for health care: The governor spent months last year arguing that state government could save more than $50 million by mid-2019 if it paid for health care of state workers. Legislators never seriously considered the change. Driving force: Legislature.
8. UW tuition: Early last year, Walker asked the Legislature to cut resident undergraduate tuition on UW campuses by 5 percent. But legislators instead adopted the sixth annual freeze on tuition paid by those students. Driving force: Legislature.
9. No long-term highway funding: Walker’s promise to veto any increase in the $75 annual vehicle registration fee or the 30.9-cent per gallon gas tax blocked all “pay as you go” plans of Assembly leaders. The impasse failed to resolve the future gap between highway needs and revenues. Driving force: Governor.
10. High-capacity wells: Despite objections from environmental groups, Republican legislators gave owners of high-capacity wells that grow vegetables and potatoes in central Wisconsin the permission to sell, rebuild and maintain those wells without Department of Natural Resources review. Driving force: GOP legislators.
11. $12.5 million in Fiserv Inc. tax breaks: Although the huge package of tax credits for Foxconn got all the attention, it also included up to $12.5 million in help for Fiserv over the next 10 years. Fiserv was singled out amid fears that it might move its corporate headquarters to another state. Driving force: Governor.
12. Looser wetlands protections: Wetlands in urban areas up to one acre can now be filled by developers without DNR review. Sponsors said the bill could lead to 100,000 acres statewide being developed. Driving force: Republican legislators.
13. Firing ethics, elections administrators: After reviewing a state Justice Department summary of the role the disbanded Government Accountability Board (GAB) played in John Doe criminal probes, Senate Republicans voted to fire administrators of the Ethics and Elections commissions that replaced the GAB. The governor played no public role in the firings. Driving force: Senate Republicans.
The final score: Seven Walker wins, six for legislators.