MADISON - Local legislators on both sides of the aisle say they hope to find bipartisan solutions to key issues facing lawmakers in the new legislative term starting in January.
For the first time since 2010, the state will see a split government as Democratic governor-elect Tony Evers will be sworn in on Jan. 7, and Republican lawmakers maintained control of the Assembly and Senate from the November general elections.
Since the 2011-2012 legislative session to the past spring session, over 90 percent of the 1,200 bills passed in the Assembly and Senate have gained some degree of bipartisan support, according to legislative records.
But key issues including healthcare reforms, education and transportation funding can often slow down cooperation between parties.
Representatives Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, and Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, say they hope to be able to work together with members of their respective parties in being able to find bipartisan solutions ahead of future budget talks.
Evers will likely submit his 2019-2021 budget plan to the Legislature in February. That will kick off months of discussion before a final vote.
Last week, Republican leaders in the House and Senate both made calls for legislative plans to curb Evers' power on various state rules.
While Spreitzer said he felt the calls by leadership do not "set a very bipartisan tone for kicking things off," Loudenbeck said she had "reservations" about the amount of power granted to the governor's office since 2010.
Ringhand said she hoped the rhetoric "was just a ploy."
"Governor (Scott) Walker was given a lot of extra power, but I don't want to see this become a political football," Ringhand said.
All three legislators agreed it could be possible to work on smaller aspects of the key issues - healthcare, transportation and education - through the budget process. Both Spreitzer and Loudenbeck said working within various areas of education and transportation funding could be a starting point for both parties, from special education reimbursements to possible new revenue sources for infrastructure funding.
"It makes sense to work this through the budget process rather than a stand-alone process," Spreitzer said. "I think there's an opportunity to craft a grand bargain so to speak with the budget."
"I agree that there could be some incremental areas for agreement that we can use to build on those towards greater reforms," Loudenbeck said. "I am trying to keep an open mind, too."
After legislators are sworn in, Spreitzer said he hoped lawmakers would work together for handling various issues. He and Loudenbeck both worked together in opposition to the Great Lakes Basin Transportation rail project, with Spreitzer saying there could be more questions raised on eminent domain in the future.
All three lawmakers and Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, were part of supporting legislation that related to the placement of sexually-violent individuals, barring out-of-county placements. An additional bill to restrict where violent sex offenders can live in relation to children is currently pending, authored by Spreitzer.
Ringhand said she wanted to bring legislation forward that had previously stalled to address the so-called "dark store" tax loophole issue. Counties across the state, including Rock and Walworth, passed advisory referendums urging legislators to act on the property tax assessment issue. Ringhand was a sponsor of a bill that failed to garner a vote in the last session but had received bipartisan support.
Loudenbeck said she was working on potential bills, but didn't want to share specifics, although she noted she had been reaching out across the aisle for co-authors.
"I think when we are back, our respective staffs will get together and start sharing ideas and communicating," Loudenbeck said.
Ringhand said voters had approached her after the Nov. 6 election lamenting the divide between Democrats and Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country.
"People want real positive work towards making everyday life better in Wisconsin," Ringhand said.
Nass could not be reached for comment as of press time.