The legacy of Gov. Doyle and the cowardice of the legislature

The Wisconsin Supreme Court's ruling on Gov. Doyle and the legislature's 2007 raid on the Patients Compensation Fund is absolutely correct. It also highlights the defining characteristic of the Doyle years. Gov. Doyle came into office almost 8 years ago with a budget mess. He promised to fix it. He lied.

For the last eight years we have been subjected to countless Transportation Fund raids, postponed payments, increased bonding, and increased taxes and fees in addition to the illegal $200 million PCF raid. The result is budget disaster. As the Fiscal Bureau just recently reported, if we change nothing in current law and spending for 2011-13, we are facing a $2.5 billion deficit.

To me, it is emblematic of the Governor's complete lack of leadership during his tenure. It is also an indication of the cowardice of the state legislature.

We must remember that the state legislature cooperated with the Governor to raid the PCF. Every single politician who voted for it needs to explain themselves to the people of Wisconsin - including the 23 Republicans. It was irresponsible and we knew it then, just as we know it now. I think any of those 23 Republicans who are pursuing higher office or reelection are going to regret that vote.

Still, as bad as the raid - and the 2007 budget as a whole - was, I think the response by the Doyle administration and the legislature is far worse. In the State Journal's report:
Department of Administration Secretary Dan Schooff blasted the court's ruling saying it "will not benefit any injured patients, it will not benefit anyone's health - it will only benefit the peace of mind of a few members of the state Medical Society."
Schooff threatened to cut rates paid to doctors and providers in the Medicaid and BadgerCare Plus programs as well as other areas to come up with the money needed to repay the fund.
So the response to a Supreme Court ruling is to get pissed off and try to punish doctors and their patients. Very classy. Meanwhile, legislative leaders are shrugging their shoulders and kicking the can down the road. Despite their being a full five and a half months left in the legislative term, Sen. Miller and Rep. Pocan - the Joint Finance Committee chairs - are "unsure" as to whether this warrants a special session. I know that I say this often, but we have a full-time legislature. Get off your lazy backsides and get to work!

I don't care who is to blame. I know that the GOP leadership was complicit and it is one of the reasons I can't stand much of RPW these days. The task now is to fix the problem. We shouldn't have to wait until a new legislature is seated in January, but it looks like that is likely. Since that is the case, this needs to be an election issue and it's a simple one: the Governor and the legislature stole from the PCF. Why did Representative X or Senator Y vote for it? Fixing the $2.5 billion deficit and repaying the PCF ought to be issue number 2 in the gubernatorial race - issue number one, of course, being jobs.

This is not the time to win by default, it is the time to lead. Will Republicans - or Democrats - do it?