Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. February 19, 2024.

Editorial: Legislative maps obscure instability

Gov. Tony Evers’ signature on the new legislative maps was hardly a surprise. The maps the Legislature passed were his own proposal, after all. Failing to sign in hopes of bigger gains under maps drawn by the state supreme court would have been massively hypocritical.

Not that such a thing generally prevents politicians from acting in a partisan manner, but we digress.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said after the Legislature passed the maps that it “will be up for grabs” in the coming elections. That strikes us as a bit of hyperbole. Frankly, we’d be very surprised if either chamber flipped to Democratic control, or came particularly close to it. Republicans will likely continue to hold majorities, though they will probably be trimmed a bit.

This was a step in the right direction for Wisconsin, but the reality is that we’re still very much in the same fundamental predicament as we have been since last year’s supreme court elections. It takes little imagination to envision Republicans putting forward a new redistricting case if conservatives regain control of the court.

Rather than having a stable set of maps based on the decennial census, Wisconsin now has a system in which the maps could change repeatedly depending on the results of a single person’s election. That’s no way to run a state.

We’ve said it before, but it’s worth reiterating that there is a far better option being demonstrated by one of our neighbors. Iowa’s maps are stable, extremely competitive, and are leagues away from being the political football they are here. It’s a model Wisconsin should use as a basis for a new approach.

In Iowa a bipartisan panel draws the maps. The House and Senate leaders from each party get to pick one panelist apiece. Those four members then appoint a fifth. The approach ensures that the panel has representatives from both conservative and liberal factions, with a compromise selected as a tiebreaker.

The result? The maps drawn are rarely the subject of debate. They’re as compact as possible, with as nearly equal numbers of residents as can be done. The districts generally seek to avoid dividing cities or counties. There’s little fuss or bickering because there are genuinely few reasons to object.

Iowa has turned increasingly red over the past couple decades, and it’s clearly a Republican state at this time. That wasn’t the result of gerrymandering. It happened because Republican candidates consistently won competitive elections in districts that weren’t tilted to either party.

That should be the goal for legislative districts. As we have said several times, gerrymandering pushes all parties toward their extremes. When the biggest risk to a re-election campaign is being outflanked by a primary challenger, rather than the general election, the temptation to present an ever more extreme version of your basic views is very difficult tor resist. It encodes a fundamental incentive to abandon any hint of centrist views, indulging instead in a drive for ideological purity.

That, in turn, makes compromise at the capitol very difficult indeed.

We believe that good governance demands compromise. It requires that people elected to office be able to negotiate. States are ill-served when officials fail to rely on such fundamental approaches.

The instability of the current arrangement is not a good thing for Wisconsin. It is not good for our elections, our government or our people. There’s a good model to serve as the basis for reform, and it’s time that the Legislature took a long, hard look at it.

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Wisconsin State Journal. February 18, 2024.

Editorial: Here’s an easy win for 225,000 children in Wisconsin

The U.S. Senate definitely should enhance a tax break to help nearly a quarter of a million children in Wisconsin get off to better starts in life.

A more generous child tax credit, claimed by parents on their tax returns, would lift an estimated 400,000 children out of poverty and benefit 16 million low-income families across the nation, according to the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That includes nearly 225,000 young people in Wisconsin.

Despite election-year politics that have stalled compromises on immigration and foreign aid, the expanded tax break for children has a strong chance to pass this spring.

With broad bipartisan support, the House recently voted 357-70 to approve what’s been dubbed the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act. Now it’s the Senate’s turn to act.

The bill would expand the child tax credit so more families with lower incomes could claim most or all of the maximum $2,000 per child each tax year.

The bill also extends tax incentives for affordable housing, business equipment and corporate research and development.

The increase in the child tax credit won’t be as generous as during the pandemic, when parents collected $3,000 to $3,600 per child with the option to receive monthly installments. Some 600,000 families in Wisconsin collect those payments, and nationwide an estimated 3 million children were lifted out of poverty.

Research suggested parents spent the bulk of that money on school supplies, child care, rent, groceries and transportation, according to the U.S. Census. A Harvard study released last month found a measurable improvement in parents’ mental health.

With the pandemic over, the credit now peaks at $2,000 per child. More of that credit would be refundable for lower-income families under the House bill.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains the impact like this: “Consider a married couple with three children, in which one parent earns $32,000 as a farmworker and the other parent stays home to take care of their two younger children while their older child is in school. Under the expansion, the family would receive about $1,940 per child, for a total of $5,830 — an increase of $975 compared to current law.”

That’s $81 more a month that the parent, not the government, gets to choose how to spend.

Here’s another example: “A single mother with a toddler and a child in elementary school who earns $24,000 as a cashier at a gas station (would get) $1,960 per child, for a total of $3,920, — $400 more than they would receive under current law.”

That’s $33 more a month for diapers, school clothes or the heat bill.

Most of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation wisely supported the measure in the House, including Republican Reps. Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, Mike Gallagher of Green Bay, Glenn Grothman of Glenbeulah, Bryan Steil of Janesville and Derrick Van Orden of Prairie du Chien.

The solid package wasn’t good enough for Reps. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, and Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, who voted “no.” Moore acknowledged the bill was better than current law yet faulted the continuation of a work requirement.

Sometimes you have to compromise to get things done.

Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, claimed the proposal would be a “massive expansion of Washington’s welfare state.”

No, it wouldn’t. This is modest yet important.

As the bill heads to the Senate, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, says she’ll vote for it, which is good. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, sounds like a “no,” which is his default position on just about anything that helps Wisconsin families.

Money for the more generous tax credit would come from reining in a pandemic-era tax break for retaining employees. That break has been widely faulted for fraud.

Johnson complains that the employee-retention program was never paid for in the first place. It increased the debt. But investing in children’s well-being could save taxpayers money on other services if their lives improve.

The Senate should act swiftly so IRS officials can apply the expanded child tax credit this year. President Joe Biden has indicated he’ll sign it. Passing the bill would prove that Congress can still govern and get some important things done.

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