President Harry Truman followed the mantra, “The buck stops here.” These are honorable, and even courageous words to lead by. His motto was displayed on his White House desk and was proudly expressed in his speeches. He reminded us not to pass blame on to others.
This is exactly what’s happening now in Wisconsin.
It’s easy to blame the top officer when things don’t go the way someone would like. I’ve heard folks sarcastically say “thanks a lot, Governor Evers!” in response to a policy with which they disagree. It’s a danger to our democracy to single out one individual and play the political blame game − it threatens our country’s fundamental practice of shared governance.
Just last week, Republican Senators voted against Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protections Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff. Some Republicans claimed their “no” vote was because of changes to livestock siting rules, even though the Walker administration started the process for these changes. The Republicans’ role in the blame game cost Pfaff his job and left our state without a qualified agriculture advocate at a time when we need it most.
The blame game is even taking a visible toll on Wisconsin taxpayers. When Gov. Evers introduced the state budget proposal in early 2019, he knew he couldn’t ignore the growing need to fix our crumbling roads like his predecessor had. We heard over and over again that constituents were fed up with potholes and rough roads. Like most drivers and taxpayers, Gov. Evers concluded the cost of fixing our roads should be spread fairly.
Governor Evers’ proposal included a modest eight-cent gas tax and reinstated the automatic indexing so infrastructure investments wouldn’t fall behind. There wasn’t a raise in the gas tax since 2005, when the Republican-led Legislature repealed automatic indexing, which was then signed by the Democratic governor at the time.
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This may not be the perfect answer as technology is making vehicles more fuel-efficient, but it would’ve meant that everyone using our roads and filling their tank in Wisconsin fairly contributed to the roads they traveled on.
Unfortunately, the Republican-dominated Joint Finance Committee thought otherwise. Republican JFC members threw out the Governor’s proposal and re-introduced their version of the budget, which increased the title and registration fees. After Oct. 1, the title and registration fees jumped. The title fee, which was $69.50, increased significantly to $164.50. The registration fee increased from $75 to $85. It doesn’t matter who uses them or how many out-of-state trucks pass through our state − now, only Wisconsin residents are expected to pay for road repairs.
It’s understandable that folks are shocked and frustrated to see what were once reasonable fees increased so dramatically in one budget. In the typical blame game style, Gov. Evers is taking the heat for the costly decisions made by Republicans.
These sneaky practices are typically done in the dark. However, we certainly were clued in when Republicans held a lame-duck session day last year to strip powers from the newly elected governor and Attorney General. As it turned out, this was only the beginning. In the first ten months of 2019 we only met seven times to consider legislation, including the first session day when new members were sworn in and we adopted session rules.
A recent AP article,= featuring Wisconsin highlighted the challenges and frustrations Democratic governors have in working with Republican-led Legislatures. According to the article, Gov. Jim Doyle was able to sign 491 bills the last time Wisconsin had a Republican majority in both houses with a Democratic governor during the 2005-07 session. So far this session, Gov. Evers has only been able to sign 19 bills into law.
It’s clear that Republicans never intended to work with our Democratic governor. Shared governance was never on their radar. When the tendency is to blame the governor for a hike in title fees or lack of attention to important issues facing our state, don’t forget he is supposed to have partners in the legislature willing to work. It’s time to put aside the political blame game and work together on the people’s priorities.
Democrat Jeff Smith, Eau Claire, represents the 31st state Senate District.