The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 15, 2001 Issue
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 opponent.

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 budget.

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.)

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