Evers wants to increase gas taxes, undo Walker laws
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gas taxes would increase but the cost to fill up may actually drop, income taxes would be cut for the middle class and most of the laws passed during a lame-duck legislative session that weakened the governor and attorney general would be repealed under Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' first budget.
Evers' budget unveiled Thursday checks off numerous items on Democratic wish lists, but will run into a Republican buzz saw. Majority Republicans denounced the plan as nothing more than a liberal wish list.
Items they oppose include expanding Medicaid coverage to 82,000 more people, freezing enrollment in private voucher schools, scaling back a manufacturing tax credit program and legalizing medical marijuana.
Evers implored lawmakers to work together to reach a deal on his budget.
"We cannot afford to play politics with this budget," Evers said in his remarks as prepared for delivery. "Folks, the stakes are simply too high. ... I've said all along that there's more that unites us than divides us. We just have to choose to put people before politics."
While Republican leaders said they hoped to find parts to compromise on, they also planned to write their own alternative budget.
"To me, it's a thousand-page press release, not a budget," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, adding that Evers' plan is the "greatest hits" of the Democratic Party.
"This budget is a liberal tax and spend wish list," Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.
Evers also called for repealing Wisconsin's "right-to-work" law and reinstating prevailing wage requirements , actions taken by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker that weakened powers of unions in Wisconsin. However, Evers' proposed budget doesn't touch Walker's signature move, the Act 10 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.
In another swipe at Walker's legacy, he would undo work and drug test requirements Republicans put in place for people to qualify for Medicaid and food stamps.
The plan's unveiling during a joint meeting of the Legislature on Thursday night kicks off the monthslong process of lobbying, cajoling, bartering and begging to get a deal that Evers and Republicans can agree to this summer.
Republicans in December met in a lame-duck session to weaken Evers and incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul just days before they took office. Four lawsuits have been filed challenging all or parts of the laws, but Evers is proposing repeal of nearly everything enacted.
Republicans are almost certainly not going to undo what they just enacted.
Evers, the former state schools chief, is also calling for a $1.4 billion boost in K-12 education funding, a 10 percent income tax cut targeting the middle class and a $150 million boost for the University of Wisconsin.
He wants to extend in-state tuition to people here illegally who graduated from Wisconsin high schools and are pursuing citizenship. He would also make people in the country illegally eligible for driver's license and ID cards. Republicans oppose both measures.
He would increase the state minimum wage to $8.25 in 2020, $9 in 2021 and increase it 75 cents per year in each of the next two years and then tie future increases to inflation.
Evers does not call for building a new prison to deal with overcrowding, but would add three barracks at two existing facilities to house about 430 additional inmates. He does not raise hunting or fishing or camping fees, but does propose raising the 32.9-cent per-gallon gas tax by 8 cents, with inflationary increases after that.
To mitigate that, he would repeal the state's minimum mark-up law on fuel. That law prohibits the sale of gas below what it costs a retailer to purchase, resulting in a roughly 9 percent markup at the pump. Evers estimated that doing away with that would shave 14 cents off a gallon of gas.
His transportation plan increases vehicle title fees and heavy truck registration fees, but does not increase the $75 registration fee paid by most vehicle owners. It would boost funding for highways by $320 million, finishes work on the Zoo Interchange interstate project in Milwaukee and funds expansion of Interstate 43 in Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties.
Under the budget, property taxes on the median-valued home would increase $50 in each of the next two years.
Spending under the $83.4 billion, two-year budget would increase 5.4 percent the first year and 4.9 percent the second year. Evers pays for most of the spending through the higher gas tax, reducing the manufacturing tax credit, tapping projected revenue growth and accepting federal money through the Medicaid expansion. Taxes overall would increase by about $550 million over two years.
The new budget year starts on July 1. If the Legislature has not passed a budget Evers can sign by then, the old one remains in effect.
In 2017, when Walker was governor and Republicans controlled the Legislature, disagreement over transportation funding delayed passage until September. In 2007, the last time there was divided government, the budget was not signed until October.