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Republicans, Democrats disagree on Evers’ workforce plans

By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed budget wouldn’t do enough to attract workers to Wisconsin and his proposals, including increasing the minimum wage, would actually hurt businesses, Republican lawmakers on the Legislature’s budget committee argued on Thursday.

Democrats disagreed, saying the minimum wage should have been raised a long time ago and that Evers is determined to make changes that would improve the standard of living and make the state more attractive for workers. Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman called the proposed minimum-wage increase a “modest, measured, incremental approach” that was “completely reasonable.”

The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee on Thursday dissected parts of Evers’ proposed budget related to workforce development, the state’s prison system and natural resources. It was the second of two days of agency briefings that were to take place before the Republican-controlled panel holds public hearings throughout the state.

The agency briefings are shedding light on disagreements between Republicans who control the Legislature and Evers and his fellow Democrats. No votes were taken, but the points raised by Republicans reveal which parts of Evers’ proposed $83.4 billion two-year spending plan are most vulnerable to being eliminated or substantially altered by the Legislature.

Evers wants to increase the $7.25 minimum wage to $10.50 by 2023, which would be the first increase since 2009. Frostman said such an increase would increase workers’ standard of living, allow people to pump more money back into the economy and, by making Wisconsin more attractive, help curtail the state’s persistent worker shortage.

But the Republican lawmaker Mike Rohrkaste said increasing the minimum wage and repealing Wisconsin’s “right-to-work” law — which Evers also wants to do — would make Wisconsin less attractive to business owners. Rohrkaste told Frostman he wasn’t “focused on the real problem” of filling existing job vacancies.

His fellow Republican, Sen. Luther Olsen, said “people are begging for employees” and the budget ignores that.

“You really missed the mark and it doesn’t seem like ‘the people’s budget’ is in tune with what reality is out there in this state,” Olsen said, referring to the worker shortage.

Evers has deemed his proposal “The People’s Budget” because he said it responds to what people throughout the state have said they wanted after eight years under Gov. Scott Walker. During the hearing, Evers tweeted that his proposal was “pretty simple” and that workers will stay in the state if they have good public schools and are paid livable wages, natural resources are protected, investments are made in public transit and there’s access to high-speed broadband internet.

Republicans were meanwhile critical of Evers’ plan to reinstate the prevailing wage for public projects. That law, which unions supported, sets minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects. Republicans also spoke out against Evers’ proposals both to increase the state’s unemployment benefits and to repeal its “right-to-work” law, which prohibits unions from requiring workers to pay fees to cover the cost of union representation.

Public hearings on Evers’ budget begin Friday in Janesville. The next public hearing will take place on Wednesday in Oak Creek, followed by hearings on April 15 in River Falls and on April 24 in Green Bay.

Likely starting in May, the Joint Finance Committee will reconvene in Madison and begin taking votes on changes to the spending plan before advancing it to the full Legislature for consideration. The current budget, passed under Walker, runs through June 30.

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