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Evers' first budget sets up fight with Republicans

Posted at 11:25 AM, Feb 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-26 12:25:42-05

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers' first budget, to be unveiled this week, will surely please his Democratic supporters by fulfilling campaign promises to legalize medical marijuana, expand Medicaid and spend more money on public education.

But there's one big problem. Many of the ideas will be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Legislature, or face little chance of passing without significant changes. Add to the mix huge issues upon which even Republicans can't agree and it seems a stalemate is inevitable.

Republicans have made clear their opposition to Evers' proposals to accept federal money to expand Medicaid , legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize small amounts of recreational pot and freeze enrollment in private voucher schools.

Even in areas where there appears to be common ground — such as cutting middle class taxes — Evers and Republicans have been unable to compromise to get it done.

Former Gov. Scott Walker didn't sign the last budget until late September, after Republicans struggled with how to fund roads and ultimately decided to punt and borrow more money rather than raise taxes or fees.

Now, under a split government for the first budget since 2007, Evers faces the challenge of following through on the campaign promises that got him elected knowing that Republicans who must vote on them won't comply.

Some of the bigger conflicts in the budget that Evers will release Thursday include:

ROADS: Perhaps the biggest unknown is Evers' transportation plan. He has signaled he will increase the state's 32.9-cent gas tax to pay for roads in a comprehensive plan to find a long-term funding solution. Assembly Republicans last session endorsed a gas tax increase, but were rebuffed by Senate Republicans and Walker. Republican lawmakers have shown openness to toll roads, but some conservative Republican senators stand ready to block any type of tax or fee increase.

MARIJUANA: Evers wants to legalize medical marijuana and de-criminalize up to 25 grams of recreational pot. The plan appears to be a non-starter among Republicans, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos saying it has a 10 percent chance of success .

K-12 SCHOOLS: Evers campaigned on the promise to increase funding for K-12 schools by 10 percent, or $1.4 billion. Republicans say they support increasing school funding, but not as much as Evers wants.

VOUCHER SCHOOLS: Evers, the former state schools chief, wants to freeze enrollment in voucher schools starting in 2021, a move Republicans oppose. Evers says an enrollment freeze would save money on property taxes, but supporters of the program say it will deny people the chance to escape failing public schools.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Evers plans to continue a tuition freeze at the University of Wisconsin for at least two years, boost funding by $150 million and allow for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to pay in-state tuition. Republicans oppose the in-state tuition plan, a version of which they stripped from state law in 2011.

TAXES: Evers will propose a 10 percent income tax cut targeting middle income earners. He vetoed a similar Republican bill last week. Evers and Republicans disagree over how to pay for the tax cut.

HEALTH CARE: Evers has promised to propose accepting federal Medicaid expansion, a move that would add about 76,000 low-income people to Medicaid and save the state about $280 million over the next two years thanks to an infusion of federal dollars. But Republicans have been outspoken against it, saying putting more people on Medicaid will shift costs to the private sector and ultimately cost the state more in later years.

PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Evers will include nearly $28 million to support women's health care issues, including restoring funding for Planned Parenthood that was blocked by Walker. Vos said Planned Parenthood wouldn't be given "one more nickel."

UNFILLED PROMISES: Evers campaigned on defunding the state's job-creation agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. But since winning election, Evers backed off on eliminating WEDC and instead will propose tightening restrictions on tax breaks it gives companies. Evers also campaigned in support of raising the minimum wage to $15-an-hour. He said his first budget will provide a pathway to getting that done, but won't go all the way in two years.