Doyle Puts Health Care and Education at the Top of His Accomplishments

Appearing relaxed and comfortable as the end of his eight years in office approaches, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle said Tuesday  that he put his work on health care in Wisconsin at the top of his list of accomplishments.

“We have made Wisconsin really the health care leader in the United States,” Doyle said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” conversation at Marquette University Law School. “We really have become the model for much of the nation on how to provide health care.”

During Doyle’s tenure, the Badger Care program for low to middle income working people has expanded and, Doyle said, Wisconsin has had the lowest percentage of uninsured residents of any state in the country except Massachusetts, which has a mandatory  health insurance law. 

Doyle, a Democrat, listed health care issues first when Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, asked him what he intended to keep working on until his last day in office, which is less than five weeks away.

Doyle said he hopes the politics surrounding health care issues will calm down and both Wisconsin and the nation can move forward with making health care affordable for all. The health plan backed by the Obama Administration and passed by Congress, which Republicans used as a major issue that spurred their sweeping victories in the November elections, would mean hundreds of millions of dollars in additional federal support of health care in Wisconsin, Doyle said.

Doyle said health insurance exchanges which are slated under the law to begin in several years could “transform the health care marketplace” and  substantially reduce what many middle class families pay. The goal is for such exchanges to offer people ways to purchase health plans privately at reasonable cost.

Doyle also put his role in education high on his list of accomplishments. He said the percentage of four-year-olds going to kindergarten has increased from twenty percent to eighty percent since he took office and Wisconsin has gone from last in the country to twenty-ninth in the number of eligible children who are using school lunch programs. He also pointed to vetoes he made that kept education funding at higher levels than the legislature approved.

Asked by Gousha if he regretted the way things turned out for the proposal he pushed in 2009 to give much of the power over Milwaukee Public Schools to Milwaukee’s mayor, Doyle said, “Yes.” The plans went nowhere in the legislature. Doyle said he still thought mayoral control would be more effective than School Board governance in pursuing improvement in MPS. In general, he said, people need to get past the entrenched fights over education issues. “This community just couldn’t get past these old fights” in 2009, he said, but he thought the idea of mayoral control will surface again.

Doyle made it clear that he still favors a high speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison, but said he thought he did the right thing by stopping further work on the proposal after Republican Scott Walker, an opponent of the idea, won the governor’s race.

“I thought it was appropriate to defer, in the end,” Doyle said. He said that without support from the incoming leaders of state government, the train idea would not become fully successful, even if he had pushed it into existence.   

On the other hand, he said some of the things critics of the rail plan have said, including that $800-million plus in federal aid could be used for other purposes, are “just fiction.” And he said twenty years from now, if and when a successful high speed line goes from Chicago to the Moline, Ill., area and up through Iowa to Minneapolis, “people may be saying, why doesn’t this train go through Wisconsin?”

Doyle said he made bigger cuts in state government than any other governor had and that Wisconsin’s ranking among states when it comes to tax burden improved while he was in office. He said it was good to keep looking for efficiencies in government but he disputed the idea that state government was bloated.

Doyle said he was comfortable with his decision not to seek re-election. “I chose not to run,” he said. “I think it was the right decision for me and my family.”

He did not give specifics when Gousha asked him what was ahead, but said he intended to stay active. “It does appeal to me to be in the private sector,” he said. “I think that’s the direction I’ll go.” 

Video of Gov. Doyles remarks will be posted at this Web address.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.