Ruminating on Changes at the Capitol

“What changes can we expect as a result of last Tuesday’s election?” the reporter asked me. He was one of several who asked my opinion on how things will change under the new leadership in the Capitol.

The state saw a surge of successes among Republican candidates which resulted in a switch in the majority party in both houses of the Legislature. The Senate has 19 Republican members and 14 Democrats; the Assembly has 60 Republicans, 38 Democrats and one Independent. 

Since the election people have asked me what this change means to their lives. Some people called with concerns about specific legislation they support or oppose and wondered about the prospects for the coming Legislative Session.

Farmers asked me if the change in partisan control of the Legislature and the Governor will help or hurt chances of passing the raw milk bill. I worked with my colleagues to pass a raw milk bill last spring.  Despite the strong support from both parties the bill was vetoed by Governor Doyle.  The possibility of passing a bill permitting the limited on-farm sale of raw milk by dairy farmers is greatly improved under Governor-Elect Walker.

A few ag reporters asked me whether farmers might lose the property tax break provided by the Use Value Assessment. Protecting this valuable program that helps farmers will likely be much easier as those calling for a change are either no longer in the Legislature or no longer in the majority.

But fixing school funding is likely to be much more difficult. Every newly elected legislator faces a daunting task in balancing the state budget. Governor- Elect Walker has made it clear that he wants to cut taxes. Making tax cuts now makes balancing the budget even more difficult.

The largest share of the state taxes we pay goes to fund public education.  So cuts are likely to be felt in our schools, making it very difficult for school budgets already stretched thin.

A dairy farmer called a few days ago worried about the future of BadgerCare. Many of our friends and neighbors - especially farm families and small business owners- rely on BadgerCare for their family’s health care needs.

BadgerCare is part of the state Medicaid program. Medicaid takes up the largest part of the “All Funds” budget or the budget that includes federal dollars. BadgerCare has grown quickly in the past few years and budget hawks will take a hard look at the program.

Federal Medicaid rules prohibiting changes in eligibility and benefits may make it difficult to kick large numbers of people off the program. But, clearly, we must work towards an alternative to BadgerCare that provides affordable, adequate health insurance to farmers and small businesses.

Another frequent question I’ve been asked is about getting work done as a member of the minority party.  Some things will be different; I won’t chair a committee as only majority party members hold committee chair positions. I will have one less staff member in my Senate office to help constituents.

But one thing that will not change is my effort to work with Republicans. As a committee chair, I reached out to all committee members, regardless of party, and made sure they were a part of the decision-making process. Good bills were passed out of my committees without regard to partisan politics.

This must continue. People are tired of partisan wrangling and just want to see the work get done. I look forward to working with all of my colleagues of both parties and I thank the voters for sending me back to the State Senate.

My office remains your office. Please do not hesitate to call us toll free at 877-763-6636. We will all miss the pleasant voice that greeted us on the other end of the phone line.  Thank you much to our staffer Kathie Colbert. We wish her the best in her new endeavors.