Gov. Tony Evers said he’s “not a pessimist” and thinks his plan to legalize and tax recreational marijuana could pass, even with a Republican-controlled Legislature that has members on record opposing it.
“I’m anticipating that there’ll be a good push to get it through, and it makes sense,” Evers said in an interview aired yesterday on “UpFront,” produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com.
“We’re surrounded by states that have recreational marijuana, and it’s time to make that change. It can be an economic boost for our state,” he said.
Host Adrienne Pedersen asked him why he included the plan for legal weed in the budget.
“Every person in the Capitol knows that policy is primarily made through the budget-making process,” Evers said. “There’s no reason why it can’t be part of the budget, and I am hoping to get it done. If the Legislature wants to take it up and pass it outside of the budget, I’m more than willing to do that. But it makes sense to me, it’s connected, there’s a revenue source and obviously some expenditures involved.”
Evers also will propose taking the federal Medicaid expansion in the budget he will unveil tomorrow, another plan Republican lawmakers previously rejected. He said taking the expansion would “recapture taxes that Wisconsin residents have paid to the federal government without getting any return on it.”
“I know the Republicans call it welfare; it’s not welfare. We’ve already paid for it. We’ve been paying for it for decades, and it’s time for Wisconsin to join the vast majority of the rest of the country, many of those are red states, and there’s no reason why we don’t,” Evers said.
The governor also said he expects the Wisconsin Supreme Court to ultimately settle his dispute with Republican lawmakers over his pandemic-related public health emergency orders and the accompanying mask mandates. Republicans overturned a previous order, saying it was illegal, only to see Evers turn around and immediately issue a new one.
“At the end of the day, they and I can go back and forth on this forever. But the Supreme Court in this state will make the final decision, because that’s where all these lawsuits are ending up,” Evers said. “And so, we’ll wait for them, we’ll continue to insist on people wearing masks all across the state.”
Pedersen asked him why he didn’t do as lawmakers say they have asked him to do, and work with them on a new public health emergency order.
“I don’t know how to work with them! They don’t want to require masks,” Evers said. “I know they are using that as a front. They could pass a law tomorrow saying ‘It is important for people to wear a mask in this state. We mandate it.'”
In another segment, Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, the Assembly co-chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, said policy items like legalizing marijuana are “better discussed in the legislative process.”
Born said the governor’s marijuana plan is an example of what he and the Joint Finance Senate co-chair, Howard Marklein, asked Evers not to do — put “big divisive policy items” in the budget.
On legalizing marijuana, Born said, “We should have a bill, we should have public hearings, broad discussion. There’s a lot of stakeholders that care about this on both sides. That’s not really the best place to have this discussion, in the budget process, when it should be more about spending priorities and tax policy and things like that.”
Born also cast doubt on whether Evers’ plan to take the Medicaid expansion would survive the budget process.
“We’ve done things in the past to make sure Wisconsin has great access to health care, and we’ve been able to do that without approaching it as a welfare expansion, which seems to be the governor’s priority on this issue,” Born said.
Pedersen asked Born if Republican members of the Joint Finance Committee would put the governor’s budget aside and write their own. Born said it was too soon to say.
But “if he’s going to have a lot of these big policy things in it, and if he is going to be looking to increase taxes, which I think he signaled … he was rolling out some tax increases, those are probably not going to be a way to start a good budget, so we’re probably heading more towards the direction we did last time, where we’ll work from a base budget.
“We’ll still see what the final document is, and if it’s something that we can work with, we certainly will,” Born added.
See more from the program, and the complete 16-minute interview with Evers: