November 12, 2008

Good Governance

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Election Day has come and gone. At the federal level, Democrats won the Presidency and expanded majorities in both houses of Congress. Here in Wisconsin, Democrats retained control of the Senate and took control of the Assembly. The same story played out in states across America.

The election was exhausting. For Democrats, though, the hard work’s just beginning. The people entrusted Democrats to lead in these tough times and, now, we have to deliver. The next two years will say a lot, not just about progressive policies, but about Democratic leadership. I think we’re up to the challenge, but only if we follow a disciplined, responsible approach to governance.

That starts with addressing the ongoing economic crisis. Credit’s dried up, home values are plunging, and unemployment’s skyrocketing. Men and women from all walks of life are feeling the pinch in their bank accounts, their mortgages, and their retirement funds. The truth is, America’s economic troubles won’t go away overnight and government can’t solve them all by itself. But there are things elected officials can do – things we need to do – to revive the economy.

We can make long-overdue investments in our infrastructure. Our roads and bridges are worn out, our sewage systems desperately need to be modernized, and our schools are in disrepair. Solving these problems requires investing in thousands of good, family-supporting construction jobs. Short-term, these investments will curb the ravages of unemployment; long-term, they’ll generate the infrastructure necessary for sustained economic growth.

Energy policy is another area where government can promote economic growth while, simultaneously, addressing far-reaching problems. Instead of spending $700 billion a year on foreign oil, we can produce our own energy here at home, creating jobs in the process. Wisconsin’s already a hotbed for biomass research and production. Programs like Milwaukee Energy Efficiency are dramatically reducing building emissions and helping homeowners save on energy bills. If we invest further in these opportunities, and others like them, Wisconsin can create thousands of new, ‘green’ jobs that can’t be offshored or outsourced. And our investment will yield immediate dividends – economically, fiscally, and environmentally.

In addition to job creation, Democrats should scour the budget for ways to reduce the burden on taxpayers. Excessive state overtime pay is one area that deserves special attention. Just last year, Wisconsin shelled out over $65 million in overtime. We could’ve used that money to hire an adequate number of full-time workers, creating jobs and saving taxpayers the added expense of overtime pay. Taxpayers entrust government with their money. It’s up to Democrats to earn that trust by responsibly cutting wasteful spending and emphasizing things like accountability and transparency in new programs.

Good government isn’t always popular with everyone. Some people shortsightedly balk at the idea of paying anything now, ignorant of the long-term benefits that can accrue from smartly investing in society. And, when it comes to cutting wasteful spending, the groups that benefit from government largesse won’t want to see that well go dry.

But that’s the definition of leadership: Making the right decision, even if it’s not the most politically popular decision. Leadership of that sort has been lacking, at all levels of government, for far too many years. Now it’s up to Democrats to prove that it’s still present in our government. I believe we, as a party, are capable of doing that.  But talk’s cheap. In the months ahead, it’s time to act. It’s time to lead!