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Evers pledges to leave WEDC alone, seeks more transparency from Foxconn project

Gov. Tony Evers – flanked by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Caleb Frostman, Evers’ nominee for secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development – speaks to reporters following a tour of the training organization WRTP/Big Step's Milwaukee offices on Monday. Evers, a Democrat, met with Republican lawmakers the following day to talk about his policy priorities, including bringing more transparency to the Foxonn project in Racine County. (Staff photo by Nate Beck)

Gov. Tony Evers – flanked by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Caleb Frostman, Evers’ nominee for secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development – speaks to reporters following a tour of the training organization WRTP/Big Step’s Milwaukee offices on Monday. Evers, a Democrat, met with Republican lawmakers the following day to talk about his policy priorities, including bringing more transparency to the Foxonn project in Racine County. (Staff photo by Nate Beck)

By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers told Republican lawmakers in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday that he will push for accepting an expansion of Medicaid, even though GOP leaders said the issue was a “nonstarter” for them.

Evers said he also repeated his pledge not to pursue organizational changes to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, reversing a position he had campaigned on, and that he will push for more transparency for the Foxconn Technology Group project.

Republicans, meanwhile, praised Evers for reversing his campaign promise to propose disbanding WEDC, a step which Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called a “huge victory.” But Republicans said they would fight Evers on any proposal to expand Medicaid or greatly reduce a corporate income-tax break in order to lower by 10 percent income taxes for the middle class.

“The request was don’t pick things you have no chance of passing just to score political points,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said at a news conference after the meeting with Evers.

The rare joint caucus for Senate and Assembly Republicans gave their 83 members a chance to meet with Evers privately just a week after he had taken office. Both Evers and Republicans have talked about trying to find common ground to work together on a variety of issues, but Medicaid expansion is one where their positions clearly do not align.

As for the WEDC, Evers had said on the campaign trail that he would try to disband the private-public economic-development agency, which was established by then-Gov. Scott Walker. Evers’ position on the WEDC led the Legislature to pass legislation in a so-called lame-duck session convened after he had won election to take away his ability to appoint a new leader of the agency until September and increase the number of appointments lawmakers could make to its board.

Evers, shortly before he took office, reversed himself and said he would not propose disbanding the agency.

“(Republicans) impressed upon us how important WEDC is and that while it had a shaky start it is now being successful,” Evers said. “It is highly audited, as they said, so they feel comfortable with how it is.”

Fitzgerald said Evers promised to “leave WEDC alone.”

The meeting came just before a legislative committee was to hold a public hearing on a bipartisan bill that would enact a state law to guarantee insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Evers said he would only support a bill that provides protections that equal or exceed those now found in federal law. Republicans oppose the federal law and passed a state law preventing Evers from withdrawing Wisconsin from a lawsuit seeking its repeal.

Also on Tuesday, Democrats outlined their priorities for the session. They include nonpartisan redistricting reform, forbidding unlimited campaign donations, barring lame-duck legislative sessions in between elections and the start of a new session and placing open-meetings and open-records requirements for the Legislature in the state constitution.

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