No Time for Timid

Early next year Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers will propose a new state budget for the coming two years in the midst of all the uncertainty that a pandemic produces. It’s an unenviable task and playing it safe is an understandable impulse, but this is no time for an abundance of caution. We face emergencies even bigger than COVID-19—economic inequality, health insecurity, social injustice and environmental insanity—that will lay our state and country to waste if left unaddressed.

Wisconsin needs a state budget that matches the moment. The moment demands bold action to start reversing the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, cure what ails our sick health care system, arrest climate catastrophe, and come to terms with chronic and systemic injustices in our society.

There’s a virtually endless list of possible curative measures. But six ideas are especially popular with the public. Voters of every stripe in battleground states and Republican strongholds across America support these progressive policies. Wisconsin’s citizenry does too.

First, boost wages so when you work you aren’t poor. Lift low-wage workers out of poverty by raising the state minimum wage in Wisconsin from $7.25 to $15 an hour.

Second, reward work by restoring taxation based on ability to pay so earned wages are taxed at a lower rate instead of a higher rate than unearned income such as capital gains and inheritances.

Third, promote wellness by accepting federal Medicaid expansion funds and obtain federal waivers to make as much of the state’s population eligible for BadgerCare as federal Medicaid rules allow.

Fourth, wire Wisconsin to close the digital divide and bring high-speed Internet connections to every doorstep in the state, allowing anyone anywhere in the state to work or run a business from home and for all our kids to be on an even footing for doing schoolwork.

Fifth, wean Wisconsin from reliance on fossil fuels by committing the state to an aggressive climate action plan to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050 that targets economic development funding to the renewable energy sector, which has been creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy.

Sixth, legalize weed. Doing so would end racially discriminatory criminal prosecution of nonviolent conduct related to the possession and sale of marijuana, halting one cause of mass incarceration. It also would prompt new business start-ups with the opening of dispensaries throughout the state, stimulate the economy and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue to fund health care access, broadband expansion and renewable energy investments.

There’s understandable yearning these days for national unity and a return to something resembling normalcy. But this is not a normal moment that lends itself easily to unity. The unemployed want jobs, the hungry want to eat, the evicted want apartments, the foreclosed want to keep their homes and the sick want cures far more than they want political harmony or a return to “normal.”

The moment we’re living in is fraught with peril. Wisconsin needs a budget that rises to the occasion.

Mike McCabe

December 2, 2020