Lots of Compromise Possible

Last night Gov. Tony Evers gave a speech that set the right tone. He talked about compromise and bipartisanship. But the actual budget document he released later contained a host of things that the Republican Legislature has rejected twice before. While I agree with virtually all of those things (paid family leave, legalized marijuana, Medicaid expansion, etc., etc., etc.) they were nonstarters and they only served to further the divide. The actual proposals didn’t fit the speech.

That was unfortunate, but what’s done is done and those proposals are certainly done. The Republicans will reject Evers’ document entirely and start over as they have in the past. That in itself represents a failure for Evers. He should have tried to get some agreements with Republican leadership before he introduced his budget.

In any event, there are several items that the Governor and Speaker Robin Vos (the only Republican who really matters) could find common ground on. Here’s a list.

Tax cuts. With a $7 billion surplus, you can bet that there are going to be some. Evers wants a 10% income tax cut for single people earning up to $100,000 and couples earning up to $150,000. Republicans have floated a flat tax, though Vos has stopped short of saying he’d make that a bottom line in the budget. If Evers goes along with deeper cuts in the top rate then a deal is possible.

Help for local governments. Evers wants to devote 20% of the state sales tax to aid local governments. Republicans have said they’re open to something like that. What’s important is that shared revenues get tied to some index, like the sales tax, that grows over time. That’s because shared revenues have been frozen for decades.

Personal property tax. Evers wants to eliminate the property tax on certain business equipment. So do the Republicans. They just need to work out the language.

Speaker Robin Vos holds most of the cards in the budget process. Senate Majority Leader Devin LaMehieu will play some role. Gov. Tony Evers is mostly on the sidelines, but can threaten specific vetoes.

Schools. Evers wants $2.6 billion in additional funding for K-12 public schools while the Republicans want an increase in vouchers. Evers isn’t going to get anywhere near what he’s asked for — it’s $600 million more than Republicans have already said they would reject — but he should be able to get some of it if he’s willing to allow more vouchers.

Debt buy down. Evers would use $380 million to pay off Transportation Fund debt. That’s just sound fiscal management because it means the state will save a bunch of money in interest payments. Expect Republicans to hear from lobbyists representing those interests that get the interest. Still, it’s clearly the right thing to do, especially with any part of the surplus that is one time money.

PFAS. Evers wants $100 million to combat pollution and water contamination from so-called forever chemicals known as PFAS. I doubt the GOP will give him that much, but they should want to do something.

Mental Health. Evers asks for $500 million to expand access to mental and behavioral health services and reduce suicide rates. Once again this should just be a question of how much.

EKGs. Evers requested $4 million to pilot electrocardiogram, or EKG, tests to screen youth athletes for heart conditions. Republicans should just go along with this one.

Parole. Evers would require the state Parole Commission and Department of Corrections to notify family members when someone applies for parole or is let out on parole or extended supervision. While this is bipartisan from the get-go, it’s also non-fiscal policy that would be stripped from the budget automatically even if the Republicans weren’t going to toss the whole thing anyway. Maybe the GOP will sneak it back in at the end of the process or pass it in a separate bill.

DA pay. Evers calls for an increase in pay for assistant district attorneys and public defenders and the creation of about 50 new positions for assistant DA’s and 50 for public defenders. Republicans should want this — at least the prosecutor half. I imagine they’ll do some of what the Governor wants.

Wage increases. Evers would give state employees a 5% wage increase in 2023 and a 3% increase in 2024. Republicans will probably mess with the details, but it’s likely to end up close to this.

Brewer’s stadium. Evers wants $290 million to cover repairs and renovations at American Family Field. This terrible, awful, scandalous and repulsive. Did I mention it was bad? Of course the GOP will approve it, but I would bet not without some angst in their own caucus where any help for anything in Milwaukee is toxic.

Aside from that last item, all of these things would represent progress, even if the Governor can only get some or most of what he wants. Since he’ll never veto a whole budget (no matter what he might say) he’ll need to use the threat of line item vetoes as leverage.

By loading up his budget once again with liberal wish list items, Evers has stumbled out of the gate yet again. But it’s not the end of the world. There’s still plenty of room and lots of time to make progress.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

4 thoughts on “Lots of Compromise Possible

  1. Evers has an extremely difficult job, dealing with a legislature that is intransigent, but I think he does it well, in a low-key, nice-guy way. The bottom line is that he won last November, in a year when my side couldn’t even beat an unlikable, inarticulate, partisan hack like Ron Johnson. I can’t imagine/don’t know of anyone who would want his job but I’m thankful that it’s Tony Evers, not Tim Michels, who gave last night’s speech.
    Legal weed is the one issue that baffles me, and it seems like an opportunity to pick off some votes. Many otherwise conservative people have kids or family friends who’ve seen their futures derailed by arrests for marijuana. While they might not partake themselves, they can see the obvious, that the punishment does not fit the crime. Especially now, with pot legal in Illinois and Michigan, it seems foolish for the state to pass up the revenue that legal weed could generate. Also, it’s a huge waste of law enforcement resources. Does anyone really think that cops should be busting kids who can buy the stuff legally in neighboring states?
    If I’m Evers, or Democratic leaders, I would keep chipping away on that issue.
    Otherwise, I think that our governor is a realist who knows that all he can really do is block the terrible legislation that Tim Michels would have signed.


    1. I’d like to add to the benefits of legalizing marijuana: generating more tax revenue for the state and a measure of safety for users. Right now the criminals are the only ones winning the marijuana game.


      1. I totally agree. I wish I knew how to make the Republicans see that argument. For a party that likes to talk about personal freedom they sure don’t support the freedom to decide for yourself if you want to use this (relatively) harmless drug.


      2. Maybe if they weren’t so beholden to the Tavern League and their other “religious” groups. The Tavern League is probably worried it will cut into their profits if people have a better choice.


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