By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans have rewritten Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ state budget in the past few weeks, pushing it through the Joint Finance Committee they control last week to set up floor votes in the full Legislature.
Both the Assembly and Senate expect to vote on the plan during the last week in June. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald may have to do some wrangling to convince potential holdouts in his caucus to get on board. And waiting in the wings is Evers. Once the spending plan reaches his desk, he can sign it, veto the whole thing or use his extensive partial veto powers to rewrite the document to his liking.
Here’s a look at the committee’s major changes to Evers’ budget and the political battle lines ahead:
WHAT WERE EVERS’ MAJOR INITIATIVES?
After Evers’ election last year broke eight years of Republican control of state government, he pressed to enact scores of key Democratic policies via the budget.
His spending plan would have taken federal money to expand Medicaid to about 82,000 more people, sent $1.4 billion in new money to public schools, and handed the University of Wisconsin System an additional $150 million.
He proposed spending an additional $624 million on transportation, funded largely by an 8-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, giving state workers an across-the-board 2% annual raise, legalizing marijuana and raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.50 by 2023.
He also called for an $833 million income tax cut, paid for largely by eliminating a tax credit program for manufacturers, and spending $2.5 billion on state building projects.
All in all, Evers called for spending a total of $83.8 billion over the 2019-21 biennium, an 8.3% increase.
WHAT CHANGES DID REPUBLICANS MAKE?
Plenty. On the first day the Republican-controlled finance committee met in May it stripped dozens of proposals out of the budget , including Medicaid expansion, legalization of marijuana and the minimum wage increase.
They spent the next few weeks reshaping Evers’ other proposals. They gave public schools $500 million in new funding and the UW System $58 million in new dollars. They scrapped the gas tax increase and earmarked $484 million in new road spending, funded by a $90 million infusion from the state’s general fund and increasing car registration and title fees. They scaled back spending on building projects to $1.9 billion but did sign off on state employee raises.
They dumped Evers’ income tax plan and replaced it with one of their own. Their proposal would cut taxes by $321 million. They also adopted a separate bill that calls for online vendors to collect sales taxes from third-party sellers and devotes the money toward covering a separate income tax reduction. The budget changes and the bill together would result in an average per person cut of $136 by 2020.
The Republican version of the budget now must pass the full Legislature, where they control both chambers. Speaker Robin Vos expects the Assembly will vote on the document on June 25. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald hopes to follow suit later that week but he could face problems within his own caucus getting the budget through his house.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE IN THE SENATE?
The Republican caucus includes a faction of hardline fiscal hawks. Sens. Steve Nass, Duey Stroebel and Chris Kapenga held up passage of the 2017-19 budget until September 2017, nearly three months late. They agreed to vote for the document only after then-Gov. Scott Walker agreed to use his partial veto power to repeal the state’s prevailing wage, limit school referendums and scrap a $2.5 million study on toll roads.
Republicans hold a 19-14 advantage in the Senate this session, which means if three Republicans don’t vote for the budget it can’t get out of the chamber.
Nass has been complaining publicly about the budget for weeks, saying it spends too much on building and road projects. On Tuesday he issued a news release saying it’s getting harder for him to vote for the budget by the day.
Fitzgerald placed Stroebel on the finance committee this session. He voted against the road spending revisions, citing reservations about Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson, a former lobbyist for road-builders, without explaining those reservations. Still, Stroebel appeared alongside Fitzgerald at a news conference praising the budget after the finance committee finished Thursday.
Craig has voiced concerns about transportation spending as well. It’s unclear where Kapenga stands this time around. He didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail Friday.
SO HOW DOES FITZGERALD GET THEM ON BOARD?
That remains to be seen. He said at the news conference that he’s talking with all the members of his caucus and such negotiations are normal as budgets near completion. He added that he’s not going to “jump to conclusions on any one individual senator.”
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE BUDGET PASSES BOTH HOUSES?
It goes to Evers. He can sign it into law as it is, veto the whole thing or use his partial veto powers to rewrite the document to make it more palatable for Democrats. Those powers allow him to strike entire words and individual digits and replace dollar amounts with a lower figure.
Evers has been mum on what approach he might take; his spokeswoman didn’t respond to emails seeking comment on the finance committee’s version of the budget.
No governor has vetoed an entire budget since at least 1931. Vos has warned that if Evers goes that route the GOP will reduce spending on health and roads in subsequent proposals. Republican legislators could attempt to override any vetoes but they would need Democrats to join them to accomplish that. Vos has said the GOP would wait until October to attempt any overrides.
IS THERE A DEADLINE TO COMPLETE THE BUDGET?
Not really. The current budget runs through June 30. If there’s no deal by July 1 current spending levels continue until a new budget is enacted. State government would not shut down. But municipalities and school districts will start getting anxious by fall if they don’t know how much new money to expect.