Scott Walker is Back in Wisconsin. Now What?

September 30, 2015

by James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

Welcome back.
Your dreams were your ticket out.

Welcome back,
To that same old place that you laughed about,
Well the names have all changed since you hung around.
But those dreams have remained and they’ve turned around.
And who’d’ve thought they’d lead ya,
(Who’d’ve thought they’d lead ya)
Back here where we need ya.
(Back here where we need ya.)
Yeah we teased him a lot,
‘Cause we got him on the spot.
Welcome back.

– John Sebastian, Welcome Back (Kotter)

After Walker dropped out of the presidential race last Monday, WTMJ’s Charlie Sykes told an interviewer for The Daily Beast, “When he comes back here, he’s going to have to show that he wants to re-engage.” That process began on Thursday when Walker visited the Assembly Republican Caucus.

Afterwards, Walker endorsed civil service reform for state employees. The goals of the reforms are to make it easier to remove misbehaving state employees while also making it easier to reward good employees. It’s good first step to show that he is re-engaged in shaping public policy in Wisconsin.

This week also reminded the governor that sometimes agendas set themselves. With the passing of Justice N. Patrick Crooks, Walker is now tasked with appointing a replacement that will have to stand for re-election next spring. At least the Wisconsin State Journal will be happy that the next justice on the court will be appointed. That will solve all of the court’s problems, right?

But there are plenty of other issues also sitting in the governor’s “in box” waiting for him to take action. We hope that the governor had a nice summer trip, but it’s time to get back to work around here.

Minimum Mark-Up: The state’s minimum mark-up law has been slowly eroding over the past few years. Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) has introduced another bill to repeal the law entirely.

Under the law, wholesalers and retailers are prohibited from selling items for less than cost. In addition, tobacco, alcohol and motor vehicle fuel actually have minimum markup requirements, raising the price of these items above cost.

The grocery store chain Meijer allegedly ran afoul of the law recently when they began offering specials to entice shoppers into their new stores in Wisconsin, highlighting how this archaic law hurts consumers.

Unfortunately, special interests like the Wisconsin Grocers Association and the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association are again lining up against the proposed repeal. They claim that larger retailers will just use low prices to force out smaller retailers and then just drive up prices higher than before. However, larger retailers will still have to compete against each other and more price competition is always better for the consumer.

What these special interests cannot answer is why Republicans, supposedly interested in free market economics, should support government-mandated price fixing?

Reform of the John Doe law: The Government Accountability Board and the state’s election laws: The more we learn about the investigation into spending by conservative organizations, the more urgent reform becomes. The latest news, reported by the Wall Street Journal, is that attorneys for the Government Accountability Board targeted groups in an effort to force state Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves, but they tried to keep Appeals Court Judge Joanne Kloppenburg from recusing herself despite similar circumstances.

The John Doe investigation’s unconstitutional gag orders attempted to silence conservatives under investigation, even as the investigation itself was an attempt to silence conservative political speech. The Government Accountability Board’s role in this has already inspired calls for the resignation of Executive Director Kevin Kennedy. The Board’s staff has been exposed as Democratic partisans, and the Board chair has an anti-free speech agenda.

The Government Accountability Board, far from being the national model it’s defenders claim, has also had its competence questioned by a state audit and by members of the legislature.

Meanwhile, the state has been warned that our current election laws are unconstitutional and in desperate need of rewriting. The legislature needs to move on these items before we enter the spring election cycle which includes a contentious race for state Supreme Court, and Walker should lead on this.

If free speech is not defended, and if we cannot depend on our elections to be fairly administered, then none of the other reforms will matter because they cannot last.

Taxes: Wisconsin’s highest income tax bracket is still higher than when Walker’s predecessor Jim Doyle took office, and still higher than Illinois’ flat rate. Property taxes are lower than when Walker took office but they still contribute to Wisconsin’s ranking as a high tax state. During the last budget debate, Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) proposed fully eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax. That’s the least the state could do at this point.

WEDC: Walker’s creation of this state agency has been a black mark on the governor’s reform record. The problem of a state agency dedicated to crony-capitalism is that, by its nature, it is going to give money away in questionable ways with terrible results. With the appointment of Mark Hogan as the new CEO for WEDC, the agency must clean up from the errors of the past or the governor should consider ridding his administration of the albatross entirely.

Education reform: The governor included a half-hearted attempt to expand school choice statewide in the last budget. However, the proposal would have actually hurt choice schools more than helped. If Walker wants to be known as an education leader, true school choice available to all parents across the entire state needs to happen.

Prevailing Wage Reform: On the presidential campaign trail, Walker called for the repeal of Davis-Bacon, the federal version of the prevailing wage law requiring government contractors to pay above-market wages, increasing costs of federal projects. During the last budget debate, the legislature repealed the prevailing wage law for local governments starting in January 2017. However, the law is still in place for state projects, driving up the cost of government.

By launching an aggressive agenda for the remainder of his term, Walker can re-establish himself as the country’s leading reform governor and re-establish himself in Wisconsin. It’s good public policy, too.

Welcome back, Gov. Walker.