It’s no coincidence that state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski rolled out recommendations of the Retirement Security Task Force she led six days before another Democrat, Gov. Tony Evers, hands the Republican-controlled Legislature his two-year budget plan.

The timing suggests the big changes Godlewski wants are a likely centerpiece of the governor’s budget proposal, along with other big changes—legalizing and taxing marijuana, for example—Evers announced before his Tuesday speech.

In her Wednesday announcement, Godlewski said state government should play a much bigger role in financial planning for retirement in three ways:

  • “WisconsinSaves is a simple, plug-and-play auto-IRA enrollment program for Wisconsin businesses of all sizes, which would utilize best practices to extend access to retirement savings to nearly 1 million Wisconsinites.
  • “401(k)ids sets our future generations up for success by providing every child born in Wisconsin with a target-date investment account to build long-term wealth and provide meaningful financial education ... to build wealth, buy their first home, pay for education, and save for retirement.
  • “Emergency Savings (would give) Wisconsin workers rainy day funds (so they) don’t need to tap into retirement savings when the unexpected happens.”

Tuesday, Evers may also echo these statistics from the task force report: “Current projections show, if nothing is done, Wisconsin will have over 400,000 seniors living in poverty by 2030, and the state will need to spend $3.5 billion more on programs relating to senior care.”

Both Democrats are eyeing 2022’s political landscape. Evers must decide whether to seek a second four-year term; Godlewski plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Ron Johnson, who has not announced whether he will seek re-election.

Both Democrats are casting a vision of a broader role for state government—a vision Republican legislative leaders don’t share.

In a Feb. 3 warning, the new cochairs of the Joint Finance Committee that will draft the Legislature’s answer to the governor’s budget sent Evers this blunt appeal:

“Do not send the Legislature another budget like your first budget that was full of tax increases, excessive spending and divisive non-fiscal policy,” said Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Mark Born. “Our citizens deserve better.”

Specifically, Marklein and Born asked Evers to not include three changes he asked for in 2019:

  • Eliminating drug testing to qualify for public aid.
  • In-state UW tuition for “illegal aliens.”
  • “Gutting common sense, progrowth reforms” like the right-to-work law and returning to prevailing-wage standards.

Based on the budget proposals he has announced so far, Evers won’t be taking the Republicans’ advice. Instead, he is expected to again swing for the progressive fences in his 2022-23 spending plan.

For example, in addition to trying to legalize and tax recreational marijuana use, he’s already called for expanding Medicaid coverage for more middle-income residents—something Republicans won’t approve. He also wants to increase nursing home reimbursement rates by 11% in each of the next two years, which would cost $240 million, and wants changes to control prescription drug costs.

In his State of the State speech, Evers also said he will recommend “almost $200 million” to make broadband more accessible in southwest and northern Wisconsin.

Other changes Evers asked for two years ago, and were ignored by Republican legislators, that he may repeat Tuesday include:

  • Raising Wisconsin’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.
  • Issuing drivers’ licenses and IDs to undocumented residents.
  • Allowing the refinancing of student debt.
  • “Banning the box” on job applications that asks about previous criminal convictions.
  • Forcing the Legislature to consider new Congressional and legislative district maps drawn by the Peoples’ Maps Commission he created. Although Evers says it’s an independent panel, Republicans say too many of its members are Democrats or have contributed to Democrats.

Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who Evers defeated in 2018, in an interview with Walker’s lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, called the changes Evers recommended two years ago a “manifesto of the left.”

Kleefisch, who is planning to run for governor next year, interviewed Walker on the 10-year anniversary of Act 10—the changes Walker got Republican legislators to approve to repeal collective bargaining for most public employees and make them pay more for health care and pensions.

Evers’ 2019 budget proposal “was really an appeasement to the far left that was behind his campaign,” Walker added.

Steven Walters has reported on Wisconsin’s Capitol since 1988. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com.