Evers open to vetoing entire GOP-written budget if necessary

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers said in a Wednesday interview with The Associated Press that he isn't ruling out vetoing the entire state budget if Republicans completely ignore his proposal and decide to write their two-year spending plan.

Evers reiterated that he wants to work together with Republicans who control the Legislature. But when asked if he would veto a GOP-written budget that disregards his plan, Evers said that "anything's possible."

"We have to find some common ground ," Evers said. "People in Wisconsin during the campaign made it clear that they were sick of partisanship. They want people to actually accomplish things instead of fight. And I'm not sure that that is consistent with the Republicans' plan to have their own budget."

Evers replaces Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Monday. Evers is required to submit a two-year state budget early this year. His budget plan is likely to include proposals Republican lawmakers oppose, including a promised income tax cut for the middle class that Evers said he would pay for by scaling back a manufacturing and agriculture tax credit program.

The Legislature generally spends months dissecting a governor's budget plan, but Republicans could start from scratch and ignore Evers' proposal. The new budget year begins in July, but state government won't shut down if that deadline is missed.

In one of his last acts as governor, Walker last month signed into law three bills passed by Republicans in a lame-duck session that weaken powers of Evers and incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul. But Walker pointed out that Evers' veto authority — as defined in the state constitution — remained powerful and unchanged. Evers, like Walker, can partially veto spending items in the budget. That means he could sign into law some parts of the budget and reject others.

Evers said Wednesday that he also wouldn't be shy about vetoing non-budget bills.

The near certainty of vetoes will be a stark contrast from Walker's eight years in office, where he worked closely with the Republican Legislature. Walker vetoed only one bill outright during his first term. But Walker's predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed 101 bills in his first term between 2003 and 2007, when Republicans controlled the Legislature.

Any Evers veto is likely to stick. The Wisconsin Legislature has not overridden a governor's veto since 1985. And while Republicans will maintain their majorities in the Senate and Assembly, they will not have enough votes to override an Evers veto without Democratic support.

Evers said Wednesday he intends to follow through on his campaign promises that Republicans oppose, including his tax plan. Republicans have said they're open to cutting income taxes, but they don't want to do it by ending tax breaks for corporations like Evers' plan would.

Evers, the state superintendent of schools, also said he plans to follow through on his proposal to increase education funding by $1.4 billion, a 10 percent increase. Fitzgerald has said Republicans would ignore that and start writing an education budget based on current levels of funding.

But Evers might get backing from some Republicans on his plan to expand Medicaid in his first budget and pay for it by accepting federal money that Walker and Republicans repeatedly rejected. While Assembly Speaker Robin Vos opposes that, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald indicated he wouldn't rule it out .

Evers is also considering raising the gas tax and other fees to pay for transportation needs , something that hit a road block in the Senate last session, although Assembly Republicans were open to the idea then.

Evers said he will also proceed with plans to cut the adult prison population in half, but specifics were still being worked out.

"I don't think it's going to be solved in this first budget," he said, adding that he remains opposed to paying for opening a new prison to ease overcrowding.

In another break with Walker, Evers said he would be open to pardoning people if they have been rehabilitated and demonstrate they deserve it. Walker never pardoned anyone during his eight years as governor.

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