Why Evers won't veto Republican budget

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SEVEN reasons why Democratic Gov. Tony Evers won't veto the entire 2019-21 budget passed by Republican legislators, but instead will rework it with line-item vetoes.

#1. Transportation spending: The difference in spending is 0.2% between what Evers proposed ($6.62 billion) and what Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee approved ($6.64 billion).

Both sides spend 8% more on transportation than the current budget but get to that increase in different ways.

EVERS wanted what would have been a 9.6-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax and a 27% increase in heavy truck registration fees.

Instead, Republicans more than doubled the $69.50 title fee, raised the $75 annual car/light truck registration fee by $10, made sure electric car owners pay $75 more and gave the Transportation Fund $90 million from the general-fund account.

Republicans also would borrow an additional $326 million - less than the borrowing recommended by the governor.

#2. Income tax cuts: The budgets of Evers and Republicans cut income taxes.

The GOP budget included a $450-million income tax cut, with part of it targeted to taxpayers in the lowest tax brackets.

Evers also wanted to raise taxes on the wealthiest residents by more than $1 billion by limiting tax breaks given capital gains investors and manufacturers. Republicans refused to raise income taxes.

But Evers has already vetoed one GOP income tax cut, saying it should be part of the budget. Does he want to be the governor who vetoes an entire budget with a second income-tax cut?

#3. Health care spending: Republicans refused to apply for federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage to about 82,000 more low- and middle-income residents - a top Evers priority.

But Republicans spent more on some other critical health care programs - pay for personal-care aides, nursing homes and hospitals, for example - than Evers had recommended.

#4. Delayed school-aid payments: Both sides want to spend significantly more on school aids, but differ on spending levels.

Republicans budgeted $650 million more for the state Department of Public Instruction, including $100 million more for special education programs.

That's less than half of the $1.6-billion increase sought by Evers. He wanted a $600-million increase just for special education.

But Evers is a former superintendent of public instruction. He knows that a veto of the entire GOP budget means no one knows when - August? September? October? - both sides will agree on the final school-aid number.

That means no school district could add classroom teachers, and could only boost spending on programs, in the middle of an academic year - a nightmare scenario for the state's former top educator.

#5. UW System: There is less than 0.5% difference between what both sides want to give the UW System in state aid, and both want to freeze resident undergraduate tuition for two more years.

Republicans budgeted $2.24 billion for the UW System; Evers wanted $2.35 billion. The System gets $2.23 billion in the current budget.

Republicans also voted to let the UW System borrow more than $1 billion to rebuild, repair and maintain buildings.

That's close to the bonding request of the Board of Regents, who oversee the system. When he was superintendent of public instruction, Evers was member of the Board of Regents.

#6. Cabinet appointments: No Evers cabinet secretary has been confirmed by the state Senate. They surely won't be if the governor vetoes the budget of Republicans, who control the Senate by a 19-14.

#7. Legislature's second budget be any better? Nobody knows what happens if Evers makes history by pushing the nuclear budget-veto button.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said a second Assembly budget would spend much less than the vetoed one, and the Assembly may not even return to the Capitol until October to consider it. Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald also said the Senate may not act on a second budget until October.

Evers can't issue an executive order raising spending on his top priorities - health care, highways and K-12 schools. If he scraps the Legislature's budget, he must wait for the Legislature to send him a new one.

WHILE Evers waits for that second budget, spending continues at current levels - levels that Evers considers inadequate. In February, he recommended an 8% increase in state spending.

So, bet on the first-term governor not vetoing the GOP's budget.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com

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