At the beginning of an interview that I recently did with WisconsinEye, Jon Henkes complimented the residents of Racine County for working together in good times and bad. He was referring specifically to our response to the massive flooding that hit this past summer and the efforts to advance the Foxconn development project that will bring thousands of jobs and opportunities to our state.
I think we all can agree in both circumstances, the outcomes were better because we put aside our political differences and worked together toward a common goal. Thankfully, in the Wisconsin State Legislature, there have been numerous examples of bipartisanship this past year; although, I wish there were even more.
One clear example of bipartisan work this session is the Speaker’s Task Force on Foster Care. This is the sixth bipartisan task force of Assembly lawmakers since 2013 that explored solutions in a single area of concern in our state. The co-chairs Rep. Pat Snyder (R-Wausau) and Rep. Steve Doyle (D- Onalaska) held hearings around the state and recently made their final recommendations. Committee members are introducing a package of 13 bills to help foster families and children in the system.
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Every child in Wisconsin should have the same opportunity to succeed, but to no fault of their own, these children face challenging circumstances. It’s essential that we consider ways to make a difference in their lives and I look forward to considering the bipartisan legislation this spring.
This past year, we’ve had a very productive legislative session. As I write this column, there have been 135 bills that have become law. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that more than 91 percent of the bills received bipartisan votes in the Assembly. Oftentimes, the media only focuses on the bills that Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on. However, from the Foxconn incentive package to the H.O.P.E. Agenda bills to fight the opioid epidemic, there have been numerous pieces of legislation that have bipartisan backing.
One major missed opportunity for the Democrats, however, was supporting the passage of the 2017-2019 state budget. The two-year spending plan ensures that we have a healthy state and a healthy future. It sets the right priorities by increasing funding for K-12 schools to a record level and freezing tuition for UW System schools for another two years. Republicans eliminated three entire taxes, including the state property tax. We’re proud that we are holding the line on taxes.
According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, we have cut more than $8 billion in taxes since the GOP took the majority in the legislature in 2011. We know that hardworking families in Wisconsin deserve a break. The budget also expands worker training programs, helps people get ready for the workforce, and takes care of our most vulnerable populations. It’s a good, balanced budget that keeps moving our state forward.
During the final months of the legislative session, hopefully, my friends on the Democratic side of the aisle will work with us to approve the best possible legislation concerning the most pressing issues in our state. I look forward to collaborating with them on important issues to address the increasing crime in our communities as well as health care concerns like Alzheimer’s and dementia, opioid abuse and mental health. We can and should continue the the strong bipartisan track record in the coming year.
Robin J. Vos, R-Rochester, is the speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly.