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Evers wants to increase gas taxes, reinstate prevailing wages

Plan would complete Zoo Interchange, expand I-43

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers arrives for his state budget at the State Capitol Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Madison, Wis. Evers' first state budget spells out his spending priorities for the next two years. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Gov. Tony Evers arrives at the state Capitol on Thursday, just before officially releasing hi proposed state budget. Evers is calling for an increase in the state’s gas tax, $320 million to be set aside for highways, the repeal of Wisconsin’s right-to-work law and the reinstatement of its former prevailing-wage requirements, among other things. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gas taxes would increase but the cost to fill up could actually drop, Wisconsin’s right-to-work law would be repealed and its former prevailing-wage requirements reinstated and income taxes would be cut for the middle class, all under Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ first budget.

Evers’ budget proposal, released on Thursday, would check off various Democratic priorities if adopted, but is more likely to run into a Republican buzz saw. Many of the Republicans who control the state Legislature quickly denounced the plan as nothing more than a liberal wish list.

The proposals they are against include offering Medicaid coverage to 82,000 more people, freezing enrollment in private voucher schools, scaling back a manufacturing tax credit and legalizing medical marijuana.

Evers implored lawmakers to work together to reach a deal on his budget.

“We cannot afford to play politics with this budget,” Evers said in remarks prepared for delivery later in the evening on Thursday. “Folks, the stakes are simply too high. … I’ve said all along that there’s more that unites us than divides us. We just have to choose to put people before politics.”

Although Republican leaders said they hoped to find parts to compromise on, they also planned to write their own alternative budget.

“To me, it’s a thousand-page press release, not a budget,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, adding that Evers’ plan is the “greatest hits” of the Democratic Party.

“This budget is a liberal tax-and-spend wish list,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, also a Republican.

Evers called for repealing Wisconsin’s “right-to-work” law and reinstating prevailing-wage requirements, steps that would undo policies that were put inp lace by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and that weakened unions in Wisconsin. At the same tim, Evers’ proposed budget wouldn’t touch Walker’s signature law, the Act 10 legislation that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.

In another swipe at Walker’s legacy, he would undo work and drug-testing requirements that Republicans put on people who are seeking to qualify for Medicaid and food stamps.

The plan’s release during a joint meeting of the Legislature on Thursday night kicked off a monthslong process of lobbying, cajoling, bartering and begging to get a deal that Evers and Republicans can agree to this summer.

It also comes several months after Republicans met in December in a lame-duck session to weaken Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, also a Democrat, just days before they took office. Four lawsuits have been filed challenging all or parts of the laws. Evers, for his part, is proposing the repeal of nearly everything enacted during the lame-duck session.

Republicans are almost certainly not going to undo what they just enacted.

Evers, the former state schools chief, is also calling for a $1.4 billion boost in state spending on schools, a 10 percent income-tax reduction for the middle class and a $150 million boost for the University of Wisconsin.

He wants to extend in-state tuition to people who are here illegally, graduated from Wisconsin high schools and are pursuing citizenship. He would also make people who are in the country illegally eligible for driver’s license and ID cards. Republicans are opposed to both measures.

He would increase the state minimum wage to $8.25 in 2020 and $9 in 2021 and then by 75 cents a year in each of the next two years and then tie future increases to the rate of inflation.

Evers does not call for building a new prison to deal with overcrowding, but would add three barracks to two existing centers to house about 430 additional inmates. He would not raise hunting or fishing or camping fees, but did propose raising the 32.9-cent-a-gallon gas tax by 8 cents, and then instituting inflationary increases after that.

To lessen the sting, he would repeal the state’s minimum mark-up law on fuel. That law prohibits the sale of gas below what it costs a retailer to purchase, resulting in a roughly 9 percent markup at the pump. Evers estimated that doing away with the markup would shave 14 cents off a gallon of gas.

His transportation plan would increase vehicle-title fees and heavy-truck registration fees, but would not increase the $75 registration fee paid by most vehicle owners. It would boost funding for highways by $320 million, finishes work on the Zoo Interchange interstate project in Milwaukee and pay for the expansion of Interstate 43 in Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties.

Under the budget, property taxes on the median-valued home would increase by $50 in each of the next two years.

Spending under the $83.4 billion, two-year budget would increase by 5.4 percent in the first year and 4.9 percent in the second year. Evers would pay for most of the spending through the higher gas tax, reducing the manufacturing tax credit, tapping projected revenue growth and accepting federal money to provide Medicaid benefits to more people. In total, taxes would increase by about $550 million over two years.

The new budget year starts on July 1. If the Legislature has not passed a budget Evers can sign by then, the old one will remain in effect.

In 2017, when Walker was governor and Republicans controlled the Legislature, disagreement over transportation funding delayed the adoption of a new budget until September. In 2007, the last time there was divided government in Wisconsin, a new budget was not signed until October.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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