GOP budget is a declaration of war. How will Evers respond?

(Wisconsin DNR photo)

These are not normal times. As Wisconsin residents endured the worst air quality on the planet this week, Republicans in the Legislature rammed through a budget that defunds critical services including environmental protections. Their message to citizens: choke on this.

Among the casualties in the GOP version of the budget, which stripped out priorities that received an outpouring of citizen support in public hearings around the state, is modest funding for county conservationists who manage land and water quality.

“Every time I stand in this body to speak about climate justice we’re suffering some 1-in-100-year climate disaster,” Supreme Moore Omokunde (D-Milwaukee) declared, as he spoke in favor of a Democratic amendment to retain funding for environmental protections.

That amendment failed, along with every other measure Democrats proposed to claw back funding for critical public services in the Republicans’ stripped-down budget bill.

“Are we prepared for more events like this?” Omokunde asked, referring to the smoke enveloping the Capitol as legislators carried on their budget debate. Not just escalating wildfires like the Canadian conflagration that sent smoke billowing over Wisconsin this week, but 100-year floods and other severe weather events are increasing in frequency, Omokunde pointed out. Gov. Tony Evers proposed funding to help mitigate these disasters and plan for a safer, greener future. Republicans stripped those items out of the budget. “It’s time to recognize the crisis,” Omokunde declared. His pleas fell on deaf ears as the Democrats’ amendments went down to defeat in a series of straight party-line votes.

Republicans’ attitude toward the growing climate crisis, like other urgent matters facing our state, is willful ignorance. Members of the gerrymandered GOP majority are so isolated in their right-wing bubble, they literally can’t see what’s happening in front of their eyes.

Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) demonstrated this myopia by retweeting Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer’s observation linking wildfire smoke to climate change without comment, as if it were obvious that only a crazy person would make that connection — when, in fact, scientific research has clearly demonstrated that climate change is the main driver of increasing wildfires over the last two decades. 

Meet Greta Neubauer, the the Assembly Minority Leader in the Wisconsin State Legislature…… https://t.co/Nta1j1DCXf

— Duey Stroebel (@SenStroebel) June 28, 2023

Omokunde is right: It’s time to recognize the existential crisis that confronts us.

As we breathe in the tangible evidence of climate disaster, we are confronted by an aggressive, emboldened right-wing majority determined to do nothing. The Republican budget doesn’t just underfund important priorities, it squanders the state’s $7 billion surplus and regiggers the tax code to do permanent, structural harm to Wisconsin, against the will of the majority of voters.

The latest Marquette poll reinforces the public’s overwhelming support for the priorities Republicans stripped out of Evers’ budget, with large majorities saying they prefer adequate funding for public schools over tax cuts and would rather put money into public schools than private schools, believe the state should put more money into shared revenue for local governments and support abortion rights in all or most cases.

The Republicans’ sneering contempt for the majority of citizens was on display as a flurry of Democratic amendments went down to defeat. Among them were budget items that are broadly popular with Republican, independent and Democratic voters alike, including restoring funding for child care, K-12 schools, the University of Wisconsin, aid for homeless veterans, and a tip line for threats of violence at schools that has received thousands of calls alerting law enforcement and school staff of potential threats. Republicans knew how they planned to vote and couldn’t be bothered to listen to the arguments for the amendments, instead speaking over Democratic sponsors as they pleaded for common decency.

Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa) read a letter from her school district explaining how the Office of School Safety helped avert critical incidents and train and counsel students and staff to deal with gun violence. The office was the main source of counseling for students who witnessed friends and loved ones killed in the horrific Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy.

US map made out of guns gun control NRA Getty Images

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, his voice dripping with condescension, took the mic to say that if the Office of School Safety’s hotline is so important to Democrats, they should urge the Department of Justice to “repurpose” its staff who work on diversity, equity and inclusion matters and other DOJ employees who are doing “nothing related to law enforcement.”

And anyway, Vos added, if there’s a real emergency, students can just “call 911.” 

This is war.

It’s a war on kids, as the Legislature refused to protect kids in school and slashed funding for teachers, for child care, special education and mental health.

It’s a war on women, as Republicans in both chambers went on the record voting to maintain Wisconsin’s 1849 felony abortion ban even as they cut proposals to extend post-partum care and maternal health.

It’s a war on people of color, as the GOP trumpeted new laws banning diversity initiatives. (Vos has also promised more legislation is coming this fall to review and eliminate “‘discriminatory” scholarships for minority students.) 

The racial animus motivating Republicans is impossible to ignore. Early in the budget debate, Vos praised the U.S. Supreme Court decision ending affirmative action in college admissions, declaring it a “great day for people who believe in a race neutral society.” He connected the decision to Republicans’ budget cutting $32 million from the University of Wisconsin in order to end funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs. 

If university officials want that money back, they can come crawling to the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee and present a detailed plan for how they will spend it — proving that none of it will go to mitigating the harms of racism or reaching out to a diverse population of students.

It’s a war on public schools and the university, which face two more years of cuts.

It’s a war on the environment.

It’s a war on democracy, with Republicans’ sneaky maneuver this week to rewrite the rules on appointments to oust the respected administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission ahead of the 2024 presidential race

Most of all, it’s a class war, with Republicans giving away a historic state budget surplus in the form of tax cuts to the very rich — 11 people who make more than $75 million per year will receive $1.8 million each, while the rest of us grapple with unnecessary austerity measures. The average taxpayer, under the Republicans’ misleadingly named “middle class tax cut” will receive about $33 per year in tax benefits – about $1.78 per paycheck. 

The $1.8 million tax giveaway Republicans are handing out to each of Wisconsin’s 11 richest residents is close to the amount — $2.2 million — they are cutting from the Office of School Safety, Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) pointed out. 

It’s time to wake up to the fact that the minority that’s ramming these outrageously bad policies down our throats has no intention of reaching a reasonable compromise.

Gov. Tony Evers signs the 2021-23 biennial budget at Cumberland Elementary School in Whitefish Bay, after making 50 partial vetoes (screenshot | Gov. Evers Facebook video) (screenshot | Gov. Evers Facebook video)

Evers has been operating on the theory that he can build consensus with out-of-touch Republican leaders. They’ve demonstrated how misguided that idea is. It’s time to switch gears. 

As Rep. Tip McGuire (D-Kenosha) pointed out during the budget debate, in all the public hearings on the budget held by Evers and the members of the Joint Finance Committee, he heard overwhelming testimony in favor of child care, schools, health care, and other funding priorities, but “I don’t recall hearing from a single person that they wanted the wealthiest 11 people in Wisconsin to get a $1.8 million tax cut.” 

The Republican majority in the Legislature doesn’t represent the interests of the majority of Wisconsin voters. Evers, who just won statewide reelection handily — without the benefit of a rigged map — does. It’s time for him to act like it. 



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F06%2F30%2Fgop-budget-is-a-declaration-of-war-how-will-evers-respond%2F by Ruth Conniff

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