Let’s cut to the chase.  

If control of the Wisconsin Senate flips in November, Exhibit A as to why was on full display at the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) on Thursday.

Look no further than Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green). His decision to vote against the committee’s GOP majority on decisions involving the I-94 North-South project and other highway issues speaks volumes. Marklein faces a demanding re-election campaign. As in many other districts throughout the state, poor roads in southwest Wisconsin are a big deal. Observers from both parties who are close to this week’s two special elections agree that transportation problems were the number one or two issue.

(Full disclosure: I watched only a portion of the hearing. It was such a beat down I felt little need to watch Republicans try to deal with the lousy hand dealt to them by Governor Scott Walker.)

The tone was set from the get-go. Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) used a lengthy report from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) to pose politically damaging charges — in the form of leading questions — to the LFB analyst. His low-key responses basically confirmed Taylor’s narrative, namely, out-state roads are in poor condition and tens of millions that could be used to address the problem have been re-allocated to work involving Foxconn. The LFB data allowed Taylor to eviscerate the GOP record under Walker on transportation.

It’s a record “highlighted” by more roads in poor condition, a doubling of highway debt service, and the basic unraveling of a bipartisan commitment to rebuild Eisenhower-era freeways that are unsafe and at the end of their useful lives. It’s a record of ignoring reports from not one, not two, but three qualified commissions who looked at the state’s transportation financing challenges. The most recent of those reports was authored by a panel created with Walker’s signature.

Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Madison) reinforced Taylor’s presentation with fact-based examples, offered in obviously political terms, that could not be refuted.

JFC Co-Chair John Nygren, a Green Bay Republican, was in the rather awkward position of asking Democrats not to exploit the situation for political gain. Sure. In June. In an election year.

Nygren’s position was particularly challenging inasmuch as he understands the broad issue quite well. He’s one of a group of Republican legislators who have argued unsuccessfully about the need to address the obvious, indisputable gap between current law revenue and needed spending.

Yours truly gets enough predictions wrong that it’s only fair to say “I told you so” when the opportunity arises. Writing more than two years ago at RightWisconsin I observed that Republicans would “own” this issue in 2018 if they failed to act. At the end of 2017, one of my predictions for this year was that “state Democrats will score points by highlighting delays in out-state road work due to Foxconn.”  

It gives me no pleasure to see Republicans at the brink over this issue. I have been an active campaign worker and contributor for more than two decades, with most of my energy and time going to Republican candidates. That commitment makes it all the more difficult to watch the GOP effectively abdicate from a basic governmental responsibility.

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