By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers, in his first State of the State speech Tuesday, called on the Republican-controlled Legislature to scale back a corporate-tax credit to pay for reducing income taxes, make sacrifices to find a bipartisan transportation plan and work together to bolster spending for schools.
“The realities we face are bigger than me or any political party,” Evers said in his speech as prepared for delivery. “The magnitude of our challenges requires us to put people first because, as I’ve said, that is the promise of our service.”
Representatives to the construction industry were quick to respond with words of praise. Terry McGowan, president and business manager of Local 139 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, released a statement saying Evers appears serious about the state’s transportation fund on a solid footing.
“Our last governor politicized this issue and put Democrats and Republicans on competing agendas,” McGowan said. “Now we have a real opportunity to demonstrate to the country that Democrats and Republicans can come together for the good of the state and get something done.”
Evers’ speech came for praise from other trades-union representatives.
“We applaud the governor on his vision of a brighter future for all working families,” said Dean Warsh, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 494. “Thank you to Governor Evers for taking immediate action to lift up the middle class and those striving to get there. There is no doubt that Governor Evers is putting Wisconsin’s hard working families first.”
Evers said he expects his proposals to pass “with broad support and in the spirit of bipartisanship.”
But that doesn’t appear likely, especially with Republican leaders calling the speech “disappointing.” They vowed to stand opposed to some of Evers’ top priorities, including expanding Medicaid and paying for his proposed income-tax reduction by capping corporate-tax credits.
“I am disappointed by today but hopefully tomorrow he begins the process of actually looking at the areas we could work together on,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican.
In a step causing further unrest, Evers sent Attorney General Josh Kaul a letter withdrawing the authority given by former Gov. Scott Walker to have Wisconsin join a multistate lawsuit seeking the repeal of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Evers’ order appears to fly in the face of a law Republican lawmakers passed last month to prevent Evers from leaving the lawsuit without the permission of the state Legislature. Evers did not explain in the speech how his order would be lawful.
Kaul, who applauded when Evers announced his plan in his speech, was committed to nothing after the address. Kaul said he would promptly respond and “take action consistent with the law.”
Vos said it would be illegal for Kaul to withdraw from the lawsuit without the approval of the Legislature.
The governor also called for providing Medicaid coverage to about 76,000 more poor people, relying on federal money to save the state about $180 million a year. Republicans have long opposed accepting the federal Medicaid money, and Fitzgerald said Evers should “give up on it.”
Both Evers and Assembly Republicans have proposed reducing income taxes by 10 percent, but they disagree on how to do so. Evers wants to scale back a manufacturing and agriculture tax credit Republicans support. GOP lawmakers instead want to tap reserves to pay for a tax reduction for the middle class.
Evers said the Republican plan was infeasible.
“I don’t make promises I can’t keep, and I’m not going to propose things that we can’t pay for,” he said.
Republicans said they liked the proposal to reduce income taxes, but wouldn’t pay for it the way Evers wants.
“He has a lot of good ideas that we’d like to do,” said Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee. “The issue is how are we going to pay for it?”
Evers also called for increasing the state’s share of funding for K-12 schools to two-thirds of schools’ costs. He wants to increase spending on K-12 schools by $1.4 billion over the next two years, but Republicans have balked at the price tag.
Evers said his budget would include $600 million for special education. He also pledged to “get to work” on helping poor and non-white students do better at school.
On transportation, Evers called for “sacrifices and compromises to find a long-term, comprehensive solution that works for everyone.” He has yet to propose a plan or amount of funding, but he has said he’s open to raising gas taxes.
Evers also pledged to deal with lead drinking-water lines, saying he will soon sign an executive order to designate a person within the state Department of Health Services to help secure federal funding for prevention and treatment programs.
The Democratic governor and the Republicans who control the Assembly 63-35 and the Senate 19-14 have gotten off to a rocky start.
Republicans met in a lame-duck special session last month to weaken Evers’ powers before he took office, a step Evers and other Democrats decried as a power grab.
GOP leaders, in another move designed to reduce Evers’ control, are also talking about breaking with tradition to write their own state budget, instead of working off what Evers will propose, most likely in late February.
Evers said he wants lawmakers to take up his version of the budget rather than drawing up their own. He has said he would consider vetoing the entire budget if Republicans summarily reject what he proposes.
Improving the economy is also a priority, Evers said, noting his proposal to have the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation set up an innovation and entrepreneurship committee to work with entrepreneurs and support innovation. He said Wisconsin has fallen behind on providing more access to broadband internet, starting new small businesses and keeping health care costs down.
On the campaign trail, Evers called for dissolving the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which was established by Walker. Since his electoral victory in November, he has reversed position and said he won’t propose any organizational changes.