Republicans to scrap Evers’ priorities, start writing budget

Republicans To Scrap Evers’ Priorities, Start Writing Budget
Scott Bauer

State Rep. Mark Born, co-chair of the Legislature's budget committee, defends cutting hundreds of Gov. Tony Evers proposals, calling them unrealistic during a news conference at the state Capitol Thursday, May 6, 2021, in Madison, Wis.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Legislature’s Republican-led budget committee on Thursday planned to kill hundreds of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ priorities, including legalizing marijuana and raising $1 billion in taxes, as it begins crafting the next state spending plan.

Republicans were essentially scrapping the Democratic governor’s entire two-year spending proposal and instead building off the current budget, which the GOP-controlled Legislature passed two years ago without a single Democratic vote and which Evers signed into law.

Republicans were shaping a “reasonable, responsible and realistic” budget by removing nearly 400 of Evers’ proposals, said Joint Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein. On the issues that remain, Republicans will build the budget based not on what Evers wanted, but instead on what is current law.

The items Republicans are killing would have brought in $3.4 billion to the state, mostly through higher taxes on capital gains and manufacturers, and by accepting federal Medicaid expansion. That alone would have saved the state $1.6 billion, when including federal money that would have come to Wisconsin.

Evers, in a Thursday letter to Republican leaders, called their plans to gut his budget “ill-advised.” He singled out their anticipated killing of Medicaid expansion, and the loss of $1.6 billion, which he said will “jeopardize our state’s ability to bounce back from this pandemic.”

Republicans for years have resisted accepting full Medicaid expansion. Evers’ plan would allow about 90,000 people to be eligible for BadgerCare Plus, a move Democrats have long pushed for only to be blocked by Republicans.

The federal money “rightfully belongs here in Wisconsin,” Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said. “I would hope Republicans don’t make this generational mistake.”

Other proposals that Republicans planned to kill included legalizing and taxing marijuana; raising the minimum wage to $10.15 per hour by 2024; restoring public workers’ collective bargaining rights that were lost in the Act 10 law; suspending enrollment in the private school voucher program; and creating a so-called red flag law that would allow guns to be seized from people deemed to be a danger by courts.

Marklein said there were some good ideas that may return later, but when asked during a news conference, he couldn’t name any.

Republicans say the budget they will write will likely include a tax cut of some sort, but they haven’t given details. They are also calling on Evers to give them more details about how he intends to spend $3.2 billion in one-time federal stimulus money coming to the state. Evers has revealed some details, but not all of his intentions for the money, which is solely under his discretion to spend.

Evers, in his letter to Republicans, said the one-time federal money was designed to provide immediate relief to businesses and individuals hurt most by the coronavirus pandemic, which is why he was moving ahead to spend it quickly. It’s not intended to replace state money for ongoing programs that are funded in the state budget, he said.

Evers noted that he has released general areas where he intends to spend the federal money while he waits for guidance from the federal government on details about how it can be used. He also said he would be willing to meet with Republicans, as they requested, to discuss his plans.

Thursday’s meeting of the budget committee is the first where it takes votes on the two-year spending plan that runs from July through mid-2023. The full Legislature will likely vote on the budget in June or July, and then Evers can make significant changes with his broad veto power.

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Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.