NEWS BLOG (WSAU) While listening to last night’s State of the State address, I began thinking about Governor Doyle’s legacy. He has 11 more months before the full story of his time in office can be written. But as of today, his successes will be magnified. His faults (and there is one big fault that taints my view of the Governor) will be minimized.
Doyle’s biggest achievement right now is health care. With modest resources, our Governor has extended health insurance coverage to every child in the state. It’s a laudable achievement. Money isn’t available for universal coverage. Children are most vulnerable, have the least control over their family’s financial circumstances, and offer the best return-on-investment for health care dollars. Putting them at the front of the health insurance line makes sense. Allowing their families to buy into the same plan, while paying a premium based on their income, brings health insurance to a large swath of the state’s population. The proposed Badgercare Basic, extended to childless families that meet income requirements, will bring the state very close to universal coverage.
The expansion of Badgercare has been expensive. It has already taken up more money that originally budgeted, and it has the potential to crowd out funding for other programs. Still, health care is a major issue of the day, and Governor Doyle has had more success on it than other universal coverage states like Massachusetts and Hawaii. He’s certainly been more successful than Barack Obama.
And when Governor Doyle leaves the executive mansion, it will be interesting to see if his focus is on fundraising for The Wisconsin Covenant. He’s signed up students for the last three years, promising them enough financial aid to attend college within the UW system if they get good grades in high school. But the legislature has never funded the program. Doyle has talked of a private foundation that would raise the money to fund The Wisconsin Covenant. If that becomes Doyle’s focus out-of-office, and if he has success, his legacy will be secure.
Doyle’s detractors will point to Wisconsin’s comparatively high tax rates, and the state’s disturbing budget deficits as marks against his time in office. Those issues will fade. The state’s finances have always shifted through good times and bad.
My biggest problem with the Governor has been his abuse of the line-item veto. For much of his time in office, Governor Doyle rewrote state budgets to his own will, striking out parts of sentences and stringing unrelated numbers together to alter spending lines, tax rates, and percentages that impact any number of government programs. It took a constitutional amendment to reign in these excesses. It was not illegal. Other Governors before him have done the same thing, although not on this level. But Doyle’s thinking is revealed through the process: there is no respect for separation of powers. The legislature is marginalized. The executive power is swelled. In my mind, it stains his time in office.
Time will be kind to Governor Doyle. His faults will fade through the sand of time. His successes will last beyond his time in office. His legacy will be largely positive.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
I will be away on Wednesday to attend the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association winter meeting in Madison. I’ll return to the WSAU Wisconsin Morning News on Thursday.