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Evers calls for bipartisanship to address Wisconsin issues

Republican tax cut bill heads to Evers for likely veto.
Posted at 4:55 PM, Jan 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-22 20:52:55-05

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is calling for bipartisanship in his first State of the State speech Tuesday, urging Republicans who control the Legislature to take up the biggest issues facing the state, including increasing funding for schools and addressing health care concerns.

"I expect legislation arriving on my desk will be passed with broad support and in the spirit of bipartisanship," Evers said in an excerpt of his speech ahead of delivery.

So far, the relationship between Evers and Republicans has been off to a rocky start. Republicans hold a 63-36 majority in the Assembly and a 19-14 advantage in the Senate.

Republicans met in a lame-duck special session last month to weaken Evers' powers before he took office, a move Evers and other Democrats decried as a power grab.

GOP leaders, in another move designed to reduce Evers' control, are also talking about breaking with tradition to write their own state budget, instead of working off what Evers will propose in late February or early March.

The battle over Evers' budget proposal — a roughly $76 billion two-year spending plan — will be the central fight in the Legislature this year. The budget includes funding levels for K-12 schools, higher education, prisons, Medicaid and roads.

The governor, in the State of the State, said he wants lawmakers to take up his version of the budget rather than creating their own. Evers has said he would consider vetoing the entire budget if Republicans summarily reject what he proposes.

Just hours before the address, Assembly Republicans and Democrats were sparring over the first bill of the year.The GOP-authored measure would guarantee insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, mirroring a proposal the Assembly passed last year but that died in the Senate.

Evers signaled he would veto the bill if Republicans didn't broaden it to include other elements of the federal health care law. Republicans planned to pass it shortly before he delivers his State of the State address.

Based on excerpts released before the speech, Evers will also call for an emphasis on the economy, increasing the state's share of funding for K-12 schools to two-thirds of costs, and improving the condition of roads and other infrastructure.

"Given the challenges we face, I expect the Legislature will focus on these important priorities instead of being distracted by division and preventing us from working together to get things done," Evers said.

Evers wants to increase funding for K-12 schools by $1.4 billion over the next two years, but Republicans have balked at the price tag.

The governor also wants to expand Medicaid coverage to about 75,000 more poor people, relying on federal money to save the state about $180 million a year. Republicans have long opposed accepting the federal Medicaid expansion, and in recent weeks have said any such proposal would be a non-starter.

"Given the challenges we face, I expect the Legislature will focus on these important priorities instead of being distracted by division and preventing us from working together to get things done." — Gov. Tony Evers

Evers and Assembly Republicans have proposed cutting income taxes by 10 percent, but they disagree on how to do it. Evers wants to scale back a manufacturing and agriculture tax credit program Republicans support. GOP lawmakers instead want to tap reserves to pay for a tax cut targeting the middle class.

Evers, in his speech excerpts, praised the Wisconsin Idea, the University of Wisconsin mission statement that says the purpose of the university is to improve people's lives outside of the classroom. Former Gov. Scott Walker tried to remove the mission statement from state law in 2015, but amid a strong backlash later claimed it was a "drafting error" and dropped it.

Fixing the economy is also a priority, Evers said, and he referenced his calling on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to create an innovation and entrepreneurship committee to work with entrepreneurs and support innovation.

Evers campaigned on dissolving the economic development agency created under Walker, but since his victory has reversed position and said he won't propose any organizational changes.