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Gov. Tony Evers to unveil first state budget to skeptical Republicans

Posted at 11:14 AM, Feb 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-28 12:14:06-05

MADISON (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers releases his first state budget to a skeptical Republican Legislature on Thursday, with many of his proposals likely dead on arrival and others unlikely to pass without significant changes.

The plan's unveiling during a joint meeting of the Legislature on Thursday night will kick off the monthslong process of lobbying, cajoling, bartering and begging to — hopefully — reach a deal that Evers and Republicans both agree to this summer.

Evers, a Democrat, has previewed much of what will be in his budget but hasn't given details on how he will pay for all the ideas, which include a $1.4 billion boost in K-12 education funding, a 10 percent income tax cut and a $150 million boost for the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The roughly $76 billion two-year spending plan affects nearly every person in Wisconsin. It will determine how much money goes to schools and prisons, the University of Wisconsin System and technical colleges, public assistance programs and corporate tax breaks.

The budget will also determine whether it will cost more to fill up at the gas station, go hunting or pitch a tent at a state park. And if Evers gets his way, the budget will make Medicaid available to 76,000 more people, legalize medical marijuana and establish a new process for drawing political boundaries free from partisan gerrymandering.

While Evers and Republicans who will vote on his plan have said they're open to compromise, they've shown little willingness to work together so far. Evers has already vetoed a middle-class income tax cut Republicans passed, and now he plans to introduce his own version in the budget.

Republican leaders have warned Evers not to include "poison pills," meaning proposals the GOP are sure to reject. That includes expanding Medicaid,as Evers has promised he will, decriminalizing marijuana and freezing enrollment in taxpayer-funded private voucher schools.

One of the biggest unknowns is what Evers' transportation plan will be. He's suggested that a gas tax increase, along with other possible fee hikes, is likely. Republicans have been divided on the best way to pay for roads in the past, and leaders this year have indicated that they favor looking at toll roads as a possibility.

Evers insists his budget reflects the will of the people, as expressed through his victory over Republican Scott Walker. But he needs to convince Republicans to go along, or much of what he wants will never be enacted.

The new budget year starts 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.