Less than two days after Gov. Tony Evers unveiled his 2021-23 budget, Republican leaders of the Legislature's budget committee have already signaled rejection of several measures proposed by the Democratic governor ranging from a partial repeal of the Act 10 collective bargaining law to marijuana legalization.
Speaking at a WisPolitics.com online luncheon Thursday, Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, co-chairs of the state’s Joint Finance Committee, said they have not met with their respective caucuses in the Senate and Assembly yet but said there are items in the governor's proposal that could get some support from Republicans in the Legislature, including increased spending on education, although the GOP proposal may end up lower than the $1.6 billion in state dollars for schools that Evers' has proposed.
Republicans also have signaled a level of support for spending taxpayer money to expand broadband access in the state, but the GOP proposal could fall short of the $200 million being called for by Evers, five times the combined spending of the last four budgets on the matter.
But the lawmakers said many proposals in Evers' $91 billion budget — including a partial repeal of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s signature law known as Act 10, which weakened public sector unions — are likely dead on arrival, and Republicans expect to draft their own budget in the coming months.
Other measures in Evers' second budget could face major headwinds in the GOP-led Legislature, including the governor's proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.15 by 2024 and Evers' plan to close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison by scrapping a former plan to build two new youth prisons and instead focus on the creation of smaller, regional facilities.
“We are kind of in a similar spot from where we were last time, though I would say even worse – even higher spending, more taxes and more divisive policy like the Act 10 stuff," Born said. "I think we’re clearly headed towards probably a similar approach to last time, and we’ll make that final decision in the next few weeks."
Legislative Republicans stripped many of Evers' proposals out of his last state budget. Democratic lawmakers almost unanimously rejected the GOP-authored 2019-21 budget, but Evers ultimately signed it on time with more than 70 line-item vetoes.
Evers’ 2021-23 budget would raise total spending nearly 10% over current levels, similar to the increase Evers proposed in his first budget. A finalized budget is due by July 1.
Marklein described Evers' second budget, which includes $1.6 billion in new tax revenue along with about $600 million in tax cuts, a major boost in University of Wisconsin funding and 2% annual raises for state employees, as "a liberal's dream."
Marklein and Born did not commit to other items in the governor's budget such as expanding Medicaid, extending the tuition freeze at UW-System and allowing the university to borrow money.
Rejected measures aside, Born and Marklein said there remain opportunities for compromise on budget deliberations.
Also on Thursday, Evers signed a bipartisan bill that allows for state tax deductions on loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which is projected to cut taxes by about $450 million by mid-2023.
Evers also signaled support for a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate Thursday aimed at updating the state's aging unemployment insurance system. Evers said he would sign the bill, which does not include immediate funding, once it passes the Assembly as early as Tuesday.
The bill also would waive the one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits until March 14 and extend limited liability from coronavirus-related lawsuits to businesses, governments and schools. It also would prohibit employers from requiring workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine, something Evers has opposed in the past.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.