Evers pumps more money into K-12 through partial vetoes as he signs budget

Gov. Tony Evers signed the two-year budget Wednesday, but only after using his partial veto authority to pump nearly $87 million more into per-pupil school aid than what Republicans had proposed.

Evers said he seriously considered vetoing the entire budget GOP lawmakers sent him late last week, adding it fell short of his original plan and knocking Republicans for failing to embrace his call to expand Medicaid.

The proposal was the centerpiece of Evers’ budget, but Republicans rejected the plan and dismissed it as a push to expand welfare.

In making his final decision, Evers said he promised voters last fall he would put politics aside as guv to get things done. And he vowed to continue pushing for the state to accept federal money under the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid in the state.

That means utilizing whatever means are available, including going to the voters next fall and targeting Republicans he said were in “Medicaid expansion denial.”

“We’re going to get them to a better place or find better legislators to get us there,” Evers said.

Evers used his line-item veto authority 78 times, matching the average number of partial vetoes Wisconsin governors have used on budget bills over the last decade. Over the past 30 years, governors have issued an average of 137 partial vetoes, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.

Those revisions reworked everything from nixing GOP changes to heavy vehicle registration fees to undercutting former Gov. Scott Walker’s push to require able-bodied adults with school-aged children to meet work requirements to receive food stamps and for adults without kids to go through drug screening to qualify.

While the requirements remain, Evers’ moves nixed the funding so they can’t be administered.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in a statement accused Evers of being “intent on trapping people on welfare” and “starving programs that incentivize work.”

Still, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, called the overall changes to the two-year spending plan minimal, quipping to reporters, “I told you this was a good budget.” He argued the guv hadn’t reworked the document significantly and knocked Dem lawmakers for refusing to support a plan that in the end Evers largely embraced.

Fitzgerald highlighted GOP proposals to boost funding for worker training programs, fully fund veterans programs, give raises to correctional officers and pump funding into the state crime labs — all of which were part of the bill signed into law Wednesday.

“I would say because for the most part our budget was kept intact, I think it’s a good thing for Wisconsin,” he said.

Evers also Wednesday signed a separate bill to direct additional revenue from online sales to lower income taxes. The combined impact of the income tax reductions in the budget and AB 251 total $518 million over the two-year period. The reductions would reduce the lowest two income tax brackets.

Evers’ office said typical middle-class single filers will see an income tax reduction of about $136, while middle-class married filers will see a cut of $182 when the tax rate reductions are fully implemented in tax year 2020.

Fitzgerald praised Evers’ decision to keep the income tax cuts intact and was unfazed by changes to the GOP’s education plan.

“It’s fine for the governor to make that call,” Fitzgerald said, adding he was unsure if GOP lawmakers would attempt to override any vetoes.

Altogether, schools are now in line for roughly $570 million more in state aid over the next two years, compared to the $505 million that Republicans had approved. That boost includes $97 million for special education, though that is well below the $606.1 million boost Evers had proposed.

Evers was able to direct more money to K-12 education by changing the per-pupil aid payment over the next two years.

Republicans had set it at $679 in fiscal year 2019-20, an increase of $25 over the year before, and $704 the following year.

Instead, Evers was able to set those payments at $742 per student in each year.

Typically, guvs can’t use the partial-veto authority to increase spending. But per-pupil aid is a sum sufficient appropriation, meaning the Department of Public Instruction is authorized to spend whatever is necessary to meet the cost.

That change amounted to $87 million more. But Evers also nixed a GOP proposal to provide schools grants to buy mobile devices and supporting software and curriculum. The net impact on the K-12 portion of the budget is a $65 million boost compared to the GOP plan.

Evers’ administration said the overall impact of his vetoes reduces state spending in all funds by less than $20 million over the next two years. That brings the state budget in at nearly $81.7 billion, a 5.6 percent increase over the base. He had originally called for an increase of 8.3 percent in all funds.

The impact of his vetoes also improves the state’s ending balance by $6.8 million. That leaves a projected gross balance in the general fund of nearly $130 million on June 30, 2021; it’s less than half a percent of the GPR the state expects to spend over the two-year period.

In a joint statement, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, and Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Republicans “missed many chances” to do something for students, families and seniors. Still, they argued Evers’ original proposal influenced how Republicans approached the budget.

Every Dem lawmaker voted against the budget as it cleared both houses last week.

“Republican obstructionism cannot silence the will of Wisconsin voters and Democrats will continue fighting for quality schools, affordable health care, and clean drinking water,” they said.

Some of the other vetoes:

*nixed a $5 million earmark to begin the process of constructing a new maximum security prison to replace the aging facility in Green Bay. Evers’ veto keeps the money with the Department of Corrections “to utilize these funds for higher priority institutional needs.”

Evers has raised questions about building more prisons at a time when he also wants to cut the number of Wisconsinites incarcerated.

Still, Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, said Evers has personally told him conditions at the prison, which was first used in 1898, are “inhumane” and accused the guv of caving to “the beliefs and interests of liberal in Madison” while dismissing the views of those in Brown County.

“It’s an absolute middle finger to everyone who has worked on this issue,” Steffen said.

*wiped out a provision to spend $2.5 million to study implementing a mileage-based fee for funding roads along with another look at tolling. Evers wrote in his veto message that he objected to a study that he claimed would show his plan to boost the gas tax by 8 cents per gallon was “the most cost-effective way to collect revenue.” The Joint Finance Committee pulled that measure from the budget, and Evers on Wednesday called on the Legislature to “stop stalling and act to secure a long-term transportation funding solution.”

*kept existing registration fees on heavier vehicles. The GOP budget modified the registration fee for certain weight classes to a uniform $100. Evers’ veto means owners of trucks that weigh 6,000-8,000 pounds will continue to pay the current fee of $106, while those that are 8,000-10,000 pounds will still pay $155. The net impact is $7.2 million more to the transportation fund than the GOP plan.

*eliminated a provision that would’ve allowed electric car manufacturer Tesla to sell directly to consumers rather than through a dealer. The provision was added as Republicans sought to secure the vote of Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield. Kapenga, who has pushed a similar proposal in past legislation, owns a business that refurbishes Teslas and sells parts for the cars.

*killed limits on local restrictions on the operation of a quarry. Backers had argued the provision would’ve helped lower the costs to produce aggregate for road projects. Walker vetoed a similar measure that Republican lawmakers included in the 2017-19 state budget.

*reworked some of the bonding Republicans included in the budget. The GOP plan included $25 million in general fund-supported borrowing for non-state projects. Republicans also earmarked $3 million of that to convert the old Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune building into an economic and community hub. Evers kept the earmark, but directed the other $22 million to help construct the new juvenile corrections facilities to replace the state’s troubled youth prisons in northern Wisconsin and house the most serious offenders. He also redirected a $15 million earmark for a northern Wisconsin regional crisis center to instead help expand the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center, which is also part of the overhaul of the state’s youth prison system.

*wiped out a $6.8 million reduction in shared revenue for Milwaukee County, the only one in which the state operates the child welfare system. Under state law, Milwaukee County’s shared revenue is supposed to be reduced to account for the services the state provides. But the amount of the reduction hasn’t increased since at least 2012, according to Republicans, even as costs have increased dramatically to provide the services.

*eliminated a requirement for DOT to build a new interchange in Brown County as part of the expansion of I-41 to three lanes from two over a 23-mile stretch. He wrote the determination of whether that interchange should be built should be left to the agency, not lawmakers.

Sen. Andre Jacque, who pushed for the earmark, said he was assured by DOT Secretary Craig Thompson that the administration still supports the project. Since that’s the case, the De Pere Republican argued, the veto was unnecessary. He hoped the guv’s administration would follow through on the project.

“If it doesn’t the blame certainly lands on Gov. Evers’ feet, but I’m willing to help him fix the mistake,” Jacque said.

*wiped out $15 million in general purpose revenue that Republicans had earmarked for local road projects. The GOP budget provision had called for $90 million, but Evers reduced that to $75 million.

*eliminated a provision that would’ve capped the cost of security DOT’s Dignitary Protection Unit could provide Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes over 2019-21 to what it paid to protect him and his predecessor Republican Rebecca Kleefisch in 2017-19. JFC Republicans added the provision to the budget following WisPolitics.com reporting that DPU had logged nine times as many hours providing Barnes protection during his first two months in office as it had for Kleefisch over all of 2018.

*rejected a provision requiring the Department of Administration to study the security and safety of the Capitol and present a report with recommendations to the governor and Legislature. Evers said he objected to “releasing information about potential security vulnerabilities” in a public report, adding it would “negate the very efforts of this study.” He instead is directing Capitol Police to work with local law enforcement to review and update existing security and safety plans.

*nixed an earmark for DOT to fund repairs of a bridge in Kaukauna, home to Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke. Evers wrote in the veto message he objected to putting the project into the budget without adding funding, saying it could result in delays for other projects. Evers added his administration is reviewing other options on the Kaukauna project.

But Steineke, R-Kaukauna, tweeted the project should’ve been a “slam dunk” and vowed to continue meeting with the administration on others on a fix. “We can’t let partisan, political differences get in the way of doing what is right for Kaukauna,” the GOP lawmaker wrote.

During the budget process, the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee moved to keep funding in its supplemental appropriation with the requirement that agencies come back later to seek release of the funds.

Evers issued a series of vetoes to nix money moved to the committee’s appropriation, including nearly $2.8 million to fund anticipated increases in the use of Medicaid services rendered through telehealth technology. The guv instead plans to use existing resources to move ahead with the investment.

The guv also knocked out a provision that would’ve required JFC approval before bonds could be issued in the construction of the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison.

The provision required the museum to show fundraising of at least $30 million toward the project with a report also due to JFC on improvements to museum facilities in Madison.

Along with wiping out JFC oversight of the bonding, Evers also eliminated the report JFC ordered. Instead, he directed the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Department of Veterans Affairs to send him and the DOA secretary a plan by July 1, 2020, that outlines the long-term vision for future museum facilities in Madison.

“Finally, I object to the undemocratic increasing concentration of power in the Joint Committee on Finance,” Evers wrote in the veto message.

See Evers’ veto message:

Web version:
https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/63028/

PDF version:
https://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/WIGOV/2019/07/03/file_attachments/1241858/Evers_2019-21%20Veto%20Message.pdf

See Evers’ press release:
https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/gov-evers-promises-made-promises-kept-gov-evers-signs-wisconsins-2019-21-biennial-budget-into-law/

See reaction at the WisPolitics.com press release page:
https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/07/03/?arcf=cat:19

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