Gov. Evers introduces his 'Badger BounceBack' budget

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Governor Tony Evers introduced his spending priorities in his second state budget address Tuesday to the Republican-controlled Legislature, seeking to spend $91 billion over the biennium. 

Evers often referred to his budget as the “Badger Bounceback” to help the state’s economy recover from the pandemic and also introduced a series of agenda items to repeal Act 10, raise the minimum wage and legalize marijuana, all ideas Republicans called "poison pills." 

“I’ve got a blueprint that will do just that and make sure we bounce back and better than before,” said Evers during his virtual budget address. “We’re going to put $200 million into helping small businesses affected by the pandemic, including helping them retain and rehire the jobs they’ve lost.”

His spending proposal would also raise $1 billion in taxes over the next two years. Republican lawmakers criticize the level of spending, tax increases.

"I don’t think the governor has learned his lesson at all, he’s introduced, maybe the worse budget than he did two years ago with double-digit increases in spending, tax increases," said Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu. 

"(The budget) really looks like he’s not serious about governing, he’s serious about politics," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. "This isn’t the badger bounce back plan, it’s the badger bounce backwards plan."

The governor's budget also recommends the largest increase to the University of Wisconsin System in over 20 years and is seeking to overhaul the state’s prison system with a series of criminal justice reforms. 

“HISTORIC INVESTMENT” IN HIGHER EDUCATION 

Evers is aiming to invest $190 million in the UW System over the next two years as well as maintaining the system’s tuition freeze for the state’s residents through the 2022-2023 academic year. An injection of about $90 million will try to offset the freeze.

The governor also wants to expand affordability options for students by broadening “Bucky’s Tuition Promise” to all UW System campuses. Currently, it is an option only offered at the system’s flagship campus, UW-Madison.

He is also asking the Legislature to support a proposal to offer in-state tuition to certain Native American tribes, active duty military members and their families who are residents, as well as undocumented immigrants who otherwise would be eligible. That last proposal was included in the governor’s 2019 budget but was cut out by Republicans who opposed it.

Other investments in higher education include $36 million for the state’s technical colleges and establishing programs to assist residents with student loans.

K-12 FUNDING

Gov. Evers wants to spend $612 million for school districts across the state over the next two years, the largest increase since 2005 according to the governor’s office. 

“We have to start by making sure our kids are better off than when we started this pandemic,” Evers said. “Every kid in our state should have access to high-quality, public education. Period.” 

He is also once again pursuing to restore the state’s commitment to funding two-thirds of the cost of public education, a goal first established in the 1990s, but was abandoned due to budget deficits. 

Investing in special education is also prioritized, with Evers recommending $703 million over the biennium. 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Governor Evers outlined an ambitious list of proposals to reform the state’s criminal justice system, both with adults and juveniles. The budget includes several policy goals such as expanding the earned release program, expungement eligibility, eliminating the felony penalty for bail jumping and allowing for a misdemeanor charge. There is also a $15 million investment in Treatment and Diversion programs.

“Reforming our justice system is long overdue, and it’s part of our overall goal to ensure our state bounces back and better than before,” said Evers. “But I want to be clear: there’s more to equity and justice than corrections and incarceration.” 

Evers is following his commitment to close the troubled youth prisons who’ve been under a series of investigations for their treatment of guards and juveniles at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. The timeline will depend on finding an alternative location. All juveniles would be transferred to a replacement facility ideally closer to their families, under Evers’ proposal.

The Evers administration is also recommending modernizing the juvenile justice system by creating a sentence procedure for youth under 18 who commit a crime. Additional recommendations include limiting the use of detention or holds and prohibiting the use of restraints on anyone under the age of 18 when appearing in court, in most cases.

The governor also proposed repealing the Serious Juvenile Offender program and replacing it with an extended jurisdiction approach as well as eliminating automatically designating 17-year-olds to adult court.

MENTAL HEALTH 

Students struggling with mental health are also prioritized in Evers’ budget as teen suicide rates are on a rise and many are unable to receive the help they need during the pandemic. The Department of Public Instruction estimates they spent about $270 million on mental health services over the last year, but they were only given $6 million under the current budget, or about 2%. 

Evers is proposing $46.5 million over the next two years to increase the reimbursement rate for mental health services for schools to 10%. He’s also seeking to hire additional mental health professionals. 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF EVERS' BUDGET PROPOSAL

Evers also announced a series of policy proposals in his budget including gradually increasing the minimum wage, closing the state’s youth prisons, reforming police departments, offering Wisconsinites a public option health care plan if the Affordable Care Act is overturned, revamping the unemployment system, legalizing recreational marijuana, allowing communities to increase their local sales tax and implementing automatic voter registration.

Unemployment: Upgrade the states outdated unemployment system, $79 million for the first year. Evers also proposed eliminating the one-week waiting period to receive benefits, repealing the drug test requirement and wants to update the application form to make it easier to apply. 

Legalize Marijuana: Proposing legalizing marijuana in the badger state as part of his budget by regulating and taxing marijuana, similar to how Wisconsin regulates and taxes alcohol. Officials say legalizing marijuana is expected to generate more than $165 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2023. The governor's 19-21 biennial budget proposed legalizing medical marijuana, but it was rejected by Republicans in the Legislature. 

Minimum Wage: Increase the minimum wage gradually to 8.60 by January 2022, $9.40 after January 2023, then to $10.15 by 2024. The governor also wants to create a task force to find ways to achieve a statewide minimum wage of $15 per hour. 

Local Sales Tax Increase: To offset some of the unexpected costs on local governments due to the pandemic, Governor Evers is proposing an increase to the sales tax. His proposal would allow counties and cities, like Milwaukee, the ability to raise the sale tax by half a cent if voters approve through a referendum. Wisconsin currently has the lowest sales tax in the Midwest at 5%. 

Health Care: Invest $1.8 million to fund the development of a state-administered public option health plan to be offered no later than 2025 or 2022 if the federal Affordable Care Act is no longer enforceable.

Institution a public option incorporates a plan that would be similar to Medicare and available for Wisconsinites to purchase. 

Republicans typically oppose the idea in which the government sets some or all of the parameters for reimbursement rates and contracts with private insurers to offer coverage. 

Expand Medicaid: Evers is proposing to expand the BadgerCare Medicaid program which would provide health insurance to an additional 90,000 people, according to the governor’s office. The idea was introduced in Evers’ 2019 budget address, but Republicans rejected it. It would save the state $634 million over the biennium, funding Evers' plans to reinvest in mental health services and other health-related programs. 

Student Loans: Create a student loan borrower bill of rights and an Office of Student Loan Ombudsman within the Department of Financial Institutions to require student loan servicers to provide complete and accurate information to borrowers on payment options and ensure that our residents are treated fairly.

Raising the Tobacco Age 21, Vapor Products: The governor wants to align with the federal government in raising the tobacco age from 18 to 21. He also is seeking to raise the age to 21 to buy vapor products and prohibit the use of them indoors and on school property.

Police Reform: Enhance law enforcement accountability and transparency by requiring specific standards in use of force policies, annual training on use of force options and deescalation tactics.

Gun laws: Require, with certain exceptions, that any firearm transfers be done through federally licensed firearm dealers with background checks.

Gov. Evers also proposed creating an extreme risk protection injunction procedure where a court, after a hearing, may restrict someone from possessing a firearm if they are a credible threat to society or injuring themselves. 

Automatic Voter Registration: Require the Wisconsin Elections Commission to work with the Department of Transportation to begin automatic voter registration. 

Absentee Ballot Changes: Allow a county or municipal clerk to canvass absentee ballots on the day before an election after working with the Wisconsin Elections Commission to ensure it will be conducted fairly. 

Also seeks to eliminate the restriction on how soon a voter can complete an absentee ballot in-person to no later than 7:00 p.m. on the Friday before the election.

Repealing Right to Work Laws: For the second time, Evers is seeking to repeal Wisconsin's Right to Work law and prevailing wage requirements would be reinstated. 

Tourism: Boosting marking funds for the state’s tourism industry 1.6 million over the next two years to kick-start the industry after significant losses occurred by the pandemic. 

Other Initiatives:

-$150 million towards mental health services

- A $500 tax credit for caregivers

- Reducing prescription drug costs

- Increasing health care access to farmers

- Small business grants for those impacted by the pandemic

- Lead position prevention, $12 million over the biennium 

- Homeless prevention, $1 million each year 

- Provide $40 million in bonding to start the I-94 East/West expansion project in Milwaukee County

- Establish Juneteenth as a state holiday

- Require the Legislature to take up the redistricting maps proposed by the People's Maps Commission.

-$5 million to address the nursing shortage, recruit, and retainment efforts. 

Evers' budget address kicks off a months-long budget process in which lawmakers rewrite the state’s spending plan, typically line by line. Republican leaders have the power to throw out Evers’ plan in its entirety, taking out proposals they disagree with, or they can rewrite their own from scratch. 

Governor Evers also has one of the most powerful veto pens in the nation where he can reshape the budget once it’s delivered to his desk using his line-item veto powers. 

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