When the Wisconsin Legislature tackles its first floor sessions of 2001 at the end of this month, Democratic and Republican leaders in both houses will bargain with the soon-to-be governor to set an agenda for Wisconsin's future.
Although Republicans control the Assembly and Democrats possess a majority of seats in the Senate, this Legislature is still capable of many achievements, according to Sen. Margaret Farrow, R-Pewaukee.
\We had a divided Legislature in 1993,"" Farrow said. ""We got a late start on the budget and we got things done on time.""
Besides Farrow's stated goal of passing the state budget before the fiscal year ends June 30 for the first time in four years, leaders in both houses hope to pass legislation on several issues, including education, tax cuts, health care and campaign finance reform.
Sen. Chuck Chvala, D-Madison, said legislation that would have a good chance to pass this year included a bill to help provide prescription drugs to senior citizens, funding for BadgerCare, which provides health care for low-income families and campaign issue ad reform.
""I don't think there was a single candidate across the state that didn't support prescription drug benefits,"" said Chvala, the Senate majority leader.
An aide to state Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, R-Waukesha, said there is broad support for BadgerCare.
""Both [parties] clearly agree that BadgerCare needs to be saved,"" said Steve Baas, press secretary for Jensen.
Baas added that the state needs to invest more in education to ""produce the workforce of the 21st century.""
Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, said he agreed that education should be a priority for the Legislature.
He said it would be important to pass legislation ""to expand financial aid for students to meet the need for rising costs of attending school.""
Black also said he wanted the Legislature to pass consumer protection legislation that could help citizens deal with utilities. He said it would be important to ""regulate the telephone company that had so many problems last year.""
The ""telephone company"" Black referred to is Ameritech, which paid millions of dollars to customers with service complaints.
Republican leaders in the Assembly hope to reduce taxes for Wisconsin citizens.
""We lose some of our best minds to other states because we bludgeon them with taxes,"" Baas said.
Farrow said she would also like to see election reform to help eliminate voting fraud, so that the electorate could be assured that its job was being ""validly done.""
As legislators try to maneuver their priorities through houses controlled by opposing parties, they also must consider the imprint that Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum will place on legislation. McCallum will rise to the governor's office after Gov. Tommy Thompson's expected confirmation as Secretary of Health and Human Services by the U.S. Senate.
McCallum's ascent would give legislators, especially Democrats, a clean slate with the governor's office, Baas said.
""Democrats will have a higher comfort level and have a chance to build a new relationship with Lt. Gov. McCallum,"" he said.
Chvala also called the emergence of a new governor a ""breath of fresh air.""
Black said he looks forward to renewed relations between Democrats and the governor's office.
""I would hope that with a new governor, we'll move into an era of shared decision-making,"" Black said.