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Editorial: Frosty state budget process begins

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

— Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Frost’s words came to mind last week as Gov. Tony Evers laid out his vision for the next state budget in his State of the State address and — as expected — it was immediately panned by Republican legislators.

Now the hard work begins.

With the state of Wisconsin in the enviable position of having a $7 billion budget surplus, it would seem to us that compromises on how to allocate those dollars in a way that both Democrats and Republicans can agree would be a do-able chore.

Evers’ vision is breath-taking in scope — he pledged millions of dollars for mental health services, particularly for children who have spent the last three years struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic; billions in new spending for classrooms and to recruit more teachers; increased funding for state municipalities through shared revenue; and a war on PFAS, the forever chemicals that threaten state drinking water.

That took the breath away from Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, who greeted Evers’ speech with: “Boy, he sure is trying to spend a lot of money. We’ll see in a month what his budget entails, but I was trying to add up the numbers going along, and he’s trying to spend a lot of the hard-earned taxpayer money of Wisconsin.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was even less charitable, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Pretty much everything he proposed today was a government expansion. So I would assume that most of those are DOA.

“We already have a government that’s too big and too expensive. In Wisconsin I want to reduce the size of it so that people can help deal with inflationary costs brought on by the pandemic and the response to it.”

Still, Vos held out an olive branch of sorts, saying, “But if he had good ideas, I’m happy to listen.”

A good spot for that listening to begin — for both Evers and Vos — would be in a discussion of state shared revenues to help municipalities deal with rising costs and the long-term effects of state-imposed levy limits.

There seems to be some common ground here.

In his speech last week, Evers said he wants to send up to 20% of the state’s sales tax revenue to local governments in the biennial budget. The governor previously had said he wanted to increase state payments to cities, villages, towns and counties by 8% and add another $10 million for police, EMS and fire costs.

But this is the first time Evers has indicated he was open to using the sales tax to fund those efforts — and that’s a measure that Republicans have been advocating for months.

So, there’s your starting point.

Yes, there are miles to go in the long and contentious budget process, And, yes, as Frost wrote, the woods may seem dark and deep at times. But, we’re confident that Evers, Vos and LeMahieu can find a way to get the job done in the coming months.

Then we can all sleep.

— From the Kenosha News

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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