We focus on winning elections, and a lot of times, it feels more like team sports or a fight based on abstract principles. But these races matter — just look at what’s happening in Wisconsin, New Mexico, and several other newly blue (or purple) states.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers unveiled his first budget and it did not disappoint. It’s loaded with progressive priorities, from a raised minimum wage and increased public school funding to automatic voter registration and nonpartisan redistricting reform. It would also fully expand Medicaid, decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, freeze school vouchers, and undo Scott Walker’s signature Right to Work For Less law, which nearly caused the lifelong government succubus to be recalled during his first term.
Even though Democrats won a vast majority of votes in November, the GOP’s egregious gerrymander helped the party keep control of the state legislature, which means that this ambitious budget will have to be scaled back. Republicans have vowed to ignore the funding levels and begin working from their paltry austerity budgets of the past few years, but Evers has laid down some bold markers, and there’s a lot he can do without GOP support.
Fully expanding Medicaid is particularly notable, because Scott Walker refused to do so for six years out of sheer malignant principle. He slightly expanded eligibility, but refused to take it to the point at which the state (and working people) would get hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government. That’s what we call being a spiteful jerk.
Keep an eye on the changes proposed in Wisconsin’s public education funding formula. Walker had been all-in on charter schools, while Evers, the former public school superintendent for the state, wants to shift the focus almost entirely. He’s proposing to pump funding to the most economically challenged school districts, which should cause some sparks to fly in Madison.
The ascension of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gave Democrats a trifecta in New Mexico and they’ve been moving fast to push through priorities that were long stalled under former GOP Gov. Susana Martinez. They’re advancing a minimum wage increase (up to $12/hour by 2021, then indexed to inflation) through the legislature, are pushing automatic voter registration, and are on the verge of expanding background checks on nearly all private gun sales.
Legislators in the state are also working on a groundbreaking Medicaid buy-in, otherwise known as a public option. As (most) Democrats running for president begin to embrace Medicare for All and the idea catches on with voters nationwide, the reality is that it won’t happen right away. A lot of groundwork has to be laid, including getting as many people as possible on public insurance and moving more hospitals and other health professionals toward working with those programs.
Similar proposals are under examination in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Minnesota; Democrats have trifectas in three of those four states. New Mexico’s proposal wouldn’t require federal approval, which is huge. It’s unclear whether the Trump administration’s HHS would grant a waiver for other Medicaid buy-in programs (if necessary), but assuming a Democrat wins in 2020, they could happen right away if the policy is polished.
The writing is on the wall: After voters in a handful of red states overwhelmingly approved Medicaid expansion, Republican lawmakers are starting to figure out that they are on the wrong side of public opinion. Unfortunately, they don’t particularly care about working on behalf of voters (see their gutting of expansion in Utah), so Republicans in several states are brainstorming ways to do the bare minimum necessary to keep power, sublimating full Medicaid expansion to fit in with their austerity policies.
In Georgia, that means Gov. Brian Kemp, who stole the election from Stacey Abrams through years of voter suppression, is moving to entirely remake the state’s health insurance system. It’s a complicated bill, but the upshot is that it would limit Medicaid expansion to those at 100% of the poverty line and forfeit most of the federal funds it would receive under full expansion. In other words, it’s a lot like Scott Walker’s awful plan, combined with tough limitations on ACA subsidies. Instead of giving subsidies to citizens, it’d funnel money to insurers.
Meanwhile, Virginia’s Medicaid expansion has added over 233,000 working people to the public healthcare plan. Imagine what will be possible when Democrats flip the state legislature this fall.