As promised, Republicans on the state’s powerful budget committee voted Thursday to strike hundreds of items proposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers for the next state budget, including Medicaid expansion and marijuana legalization.
The move by Republicans to eliminate 384 items from Evers’ spending plan leaves the 2019-21 budget, which was opposed by Democratic lawmakers, but signed by Evers, as a starting point for the 2021-23 biennial budget discussion.
“We will be taking our Wisconsin state budget process back to basics,” committee co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said Thursday.
The committee voted 12-4, along party lines, to remove the items from the budget.
In a letter to Republican leaders Thursday, Evers said the decision to strip so many items from his budget proposal was “ill-advised and well-opposed.” The governor also on Thursday encouraged residents to contact their elected officials regarding the budget.
“Clearly these legislators need to hear directly from the same folks I’ve been listening to these past seven months, and that’s why I’m calling on Wisconsinites in every corner of the state today to contact their legislators.,” Evers tweeted.
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The elimination of about $1 billion in taxes and Medicaid expansion that would have provided the state $1.6 billion in federal funds, among other measures, strikes roughly $3.4 billion of revenue from the governor’s proposal.
Republican committee members said they will craft what they have called a “reasonable, responsible and realistic” budget in the coming weeks that could include some level of tax cut.
“We have a large surplus,” said committee co-chair Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam. “We can invest in our priorities with that and we can return some of the money to the taxpayers.”
Democratic members of the committee proposed an amendment that would have maintained the option to expand Medicaid expansion, which would provide coverage for an estimated 90,000 residents and net Wisconsin $1 billion in one-time funds under the latest federal stimulus package.
Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said striking Medicaid expansion from the discussion “will punch a hole in our budget.”
Republicans have opposed expanding the state’s BadgerCare Plus insurance program for years. On Thursday, Born described the governor’s proposal as an expansion of welfare.
“This is a health insurance welfare program,” he said. “Anyone that can’t be honest about what it is, why are we even talking about it then?”
Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, who said she did not have health insurance until she became a state lawmaker, said expansion would provide much-needed coverage to some of the state’s poorest residents.
“This is about making sure that human beings have medical coverage,” she said. “So welfare or not, these are still people.”
The amendment to keep discussions open surrounding Medicaid expansion ultimately failed along party lines.
Republicans also nixed the governor’s proposals to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.15 by 2024; to scale back a manufacturing tax credit, which would have provided $487 million more in revenue over two years; and to repeal the state’s “right-to-work” law, which prohibits employers and unions from requiring the payment of monthly dues from nonunion members at unionized worksites.
Evers’ proposal to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, which would have generated an estimated $165 million a year in taxes, also was eliminated.
Of the nearly 400 items removed from the governor’s budget proposal, about 190 measures were considered non-fiscal policy items, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Conservative group Empower Wisconsin noted that the 191 non-fiscal items in Evers’ most recent budget proposal were more than double the 71 included in the governor’s 2019-21 budget proposal and the most in almost 30 years.
“These kinds of divisive policy proposals — and such big spending at a time when the federal government is dumping billions of dollars on the state — are unconscionable,” Empower Wisconsin president Adam Jarchow said in an email. “The Legislature is right to rebuild the monstrosity that is Gov. Evers’ budget plan.”
Other items removed from Evers’ budget proposal include:
- Allowing counties and some cities, including Madison, the authority to impose an additional 0.5% sales tax.
- Expanding the earned income and homestead tax credits.
- Increasing the the maximum unemployment benefit weekly rate from $370 to $409 and repealing the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits.
- Providing nearly $80 million to help fund a new unemployment system.
- Requiring the Legislature to take up the redistricting maps proposed by the governor’s maps comm
- Changes to the state’s private school voucher program, such as caps on enrollment and requiring teachers in voucher schools to be licensed.
"Clearly these legislators need to hear directly from the same folks I’ve been listening to these past seven months."
Gov. Tony Evers