The Wisconsin State Assembly began its fall session this week, with representatives concerned especially with Wisconsin’s economic health in the midst of America’s new war against terrorism.
Although the road ahead might be difficult, the State Assembly began the week on a cooperative note.
On Monday, the Assembly unanimously passed a measure that reimburses National Guard members 100 percent of their tuition money. They also unanimously passed resolutions supporting the actions of President Bush, and declaring Sep. 11 a State Day of Remembrance.
Because of last month’s terrorist attack, Wisconsin’s already struggling economy has been damaged further. Therefore, the State Assembly will focus on creating economic relief for businesses in the state.
“It is always important to protect the economic climate of the state, but in the wake of the events of Sep. 11, it is more important than ever to keep our economic system strong,” said Steve Baas, a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, R-Waukesha.
Republicans, who have a 56-43 majority in the State Assembly, are planning to introduce legislation to provide tax relief and assistance to the airline industry, as well as the insurance, transportation, tourism and energy industries.
However, Assembly minority leader Spencer Black, D-Madison, said Democrats have a different perspective on how to invigorate the declining economy.
This week, Black announced that a “Working Family Agenda” would be the primary objective for Democrats during this legislative session. It will focus on such issues as a minimum-wage increase and greater health care for the self-employed.
“Republicans propose more tax breaks and hand outs for big corporations,” Black said. “We believe the needs of the workers should come first.”
Another move the Democrats are supporting would increase financial aid for students in the UW System at the same tuition rate increases.
“We are concerned that rising tuition and inadequate student aid means that many otherwise qualified students will be denied an education,” Black said.
State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said he does not believe the economic situation warrants providing extensive fiscal aid to businesses Republicans want.
“It reveals their real agenda ? helping the wealthy corporations,” Pocan said.
State Rep. Stephen Freese, R-Dodgeville, said he is disappointed Assembly Democrats would resort to partisan bickering.
“Obviously they don’t have much to talk about if they have to resort to class warfare,” Freese said.
Freese said the state’s large deficit makes the spending hikes many Democrats want impossible.
“It is irresponsible to propose all kinds of spending increases without saying where to get the money from,” Freese said.
Also on the agenda is election reform. Legislation is being considered to establish state voter ID cards. Wisconsin residents would be required to show them before voting, to prevent abuses such as those seen during the November elections.
Despite potential opposition from Assembly Democrats, Baas said he expects there to be a greater sense of bipartisanship during the current session because of the events of last month.
“One of the greatest untold stories is that most proposals pass in the Assembly with broad bipartisan support,” Baas said. “The natural drawing together will only reinforce that.”
Black said the Democrats welcome a bipartisan approach during this session if both parties’ agendas receive adequate consideration.
“We are willing to work with the Republicans to bring these bills up for a vote,” Black said. “We hope [the Republicans] will agree to reach out and stop stalling on these important measures.”
Pocan said the competing interests between Wisconsin businesses and working-class families will be the main issue during this session, making bi-partisanship unlikely.
“This shows more the differences between the two parties,” Pocan said. “It could lead to a more tenacious floor period.”