Promises, promises during election 2018

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Keep a skeptical ear as politicians up the rhetorical ante in close races.

IN WISCONSIN and across the nation this is an election year, so brace yourself for outlandish promises delivered with straight faces by politicians.

The race for Wisconsin governor - with incumbent Republican Scott Walker asking for a third term, challenged by Democrat Tony Evers - looks squeaky tight, a likely formula for ongoing escalation on the promises front.

Citizens and voters should keep this in mind: Politicians can promise what they will, but what matters is what can pass the legislature. Whether in Washington or Madison, executives usually learn their most extravagant promises land dead on arrival at the legislative door. In fact, they often count on it so they later can say, "I tried. They wouldn't let me."

SO IT'S SOMEWHAT AMUSING, as well as a little alarming, to follow the feud between Walker and Evers over public school issues.

Walker has been touting himself as "the education governor," a label very large numbers of people in the education field find laughable. Throughout his two terms Walker mostly has been at odds with teachers and administrators, who count among his biggest critics. Until Walker's last budget public schools routinely felt singled out for fiscal restraints. And public school supporters have chafed over the governor's commitment to rapidly expanding vouchers so students could leave for private schools.

And then there's Evers, who leaves those who can do arithmetic dumbfounded with his proposal to boost public school spending by $1.4 billion - aimed at returning to a state commitment to fund two-thirds of public school costs. Longtime readers may remember when then-Gov. Tommy Thompson moved to that level of state funding, during a "fat" time for state revenues. Realists knew then the two-thirds commitment was unsustainable, because the economy wouldn't always be "fat" and in lean times the money wouldn't be there.

And it won't be there for Evers, either. To govern is to decide things, and budgeting is the primary tool. Yes, education is important. But so are roads and clean water and workforce development and emergency services and prisons and parks and municipal shared revenues and ... well, you get the picture.

AS THESE PROMISES FLY out of politicians' mouths, listen with a skeptical ear. The people running for office know it's nearly impossible to capture the short American attention span with dry discourse about nuances in administering public policy. They look for hot-button issues that appeal emotionally to voters. They promise they can deliver very simple answers to very complex problems.

We won't call that lying.

We will call that playing fast and loose with what's possible and what's not.

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