Gov. Tony Evers has included some strong priorities in his state budget proposal.
The Democratic governor wants to spend more on public schools, universities and technical colleges. Given past spending reductions to schools under Republican rule, and given our state’s relatively strong economy, investing in the knowledge and talent of younger generations as well as older workers who need retraining makes sense.
Wisconsin also should welcome greater commitment to better roads, following years of neglect and excessive borrowing. Evers has proposed an 8-cent-per-gallon increase in the state’s gas tax, which would take Wisconsin’s fuel charge to 41 cents a gallon and raise $485 million for transportation needs.
That might sound like a significant increase. But Wisconsin’s gas tax has been flat for 13 years, despite inflation and higher construction costs. At the same time, motorists are burning less gas because their vehicles are more fuel efficient.
The average Wisconsin driver, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, is using about 48 fewer gallons annually than a decade ago and paying around $15 less in fuel taxes. Evers’ gas tax would cost the typical motorist about $35 more a year. So that’s a difference of $20 a year — a modest increase for better roads in a state with some of the worst driving surfaces in the nation.
The governor’s proposal to accept more than $300 million in additional federal Medicaid money is overdue. His predecessor’s argument for not taking the money was that it might dry up. But it hasn’t.
We also appreciate Evers’ commitment to helping more families find stable housing, helping poor children get dental care, and increasing pay for public defenders and assistant district attorneys.
Unfortunately, the governor’s budget proposal is flawed in significant ways. It’s stuffed with a slew of policy that has little or nothing to do with spending money. This includes the legalization of medical marijuana — which is a fine idea, but shouldn’t be slipped into the state’s spending plan to avoid scrutiny.
The same goes for micromanaging teacher schedules, lifting restrictions on school referendums, and automatically registering motorists to vote. Regardless of the merits, such proposals should stand on their own as separate bills.
The Fiscal Bureau will identify non-fiscal policy in the state’s spending plan, which should be removed. If that includes Evers’ noble proposal for a nonpartisan redistricting process that would end gerrymandering, so be it. We support the bipartisan push to restore a fair process for reshaping legislative and congressional voting districts after the 2020 census. But stuffing it into the budget is suspect, given that Iowa’s nonpartisan system costs taxpayers virtually nothing.
The Republican-run Legislature plans to draft its own state budget, which is fine. But by this summer, both sides will have to move to the middle and compromise for the good of all citizens.