Eye on the Capitol|
Bi-partisanship does exist and works at the right time
Adequate childcare is a major concern of working parents who want to escape welfare
By John Huebscher
State Senator Gwen Moore and State Representative John Gard both
serve on the legislature's budget writing Joint Committee on
Finance. But that is about all they have in common. Sen. Moore is
a liberal Democrat from Milwaukee's central city area. Rep. Gard
is a conservative Republican from rural Peshtigo in northeastern
Wisconsin. They disagree on most major issues. Five years ago,
when Gard led efforts to enact the W-2 program, Wisconsin's plan
for welfare reform, Moore was perhaps his most passionate
But last week the two forged a significant compromise that spares
the working poor families who receive services under W-2 from
taking a major hit in what is shaping up as a very austere state
As state policy makers of all stripes search for ways to deal
with a budget shortfall in excess of $750 million, many programs
are making do with less money and some are in danger of
elimination. One of the most pressing problems facing the
Committee is a projected gap of nearly $100 million in the
Wisconsin Shares program, a program that helps working poor
families meet childcare expenses. The need to find, and pay for,
adequate child care is a major concern of working parents, and a
major impediment for those who want to escape welfare by taking a
good job. Addressing that gap is one of the most vexing
challenges facing the members of theCommittee.
Both Rep. Gard and Sen. Moore saw childcare as a means to their
priorities. For Gard, childcare is a way to help working poor
parents remain in the work force instead of becoming dependent on
public assistance. For Sen. Moore, affordable childcare helps
assure that poor children are cared for when their parents are on
the job and means that the parents may direct more of their
modest incomes to other basic needs.
Over the course of lengthy discussions, the two agreed on a
package of program reductions and spending adjustments to capture
more federal funds for W-2 related activities. In the process
they secured some badly needed funding for legal immigrants and
closed a major hole in the budget. The Committee ratified their
compromise on a unanimous vote.
The cooperation and agreement between legislators of such
differing political philosophies doesn't command the same
attention as the partisan squabbling. But on issues large and
small, it happens throughout the budget process. In the end, it
is how the budget, imperfect as it may be, will navigate the
legislative process in a year of a large financial shortfall.
In the same retirement speech I referenced in a recent column,
Tiny Krueger told his colleagues that they should never be
ashamed that they were career politicians. He said it was just
such people who put partisanship aside and held the community
together in difficult times.
I think Tiny would have been pleased with what Rep. Gard and Sen.
Moore did this week. The rest of us should be grateful.
(Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic
Conference, the civil arm of the state's five diocesan bishops.)