On February 16th, Governor Tony Evers introduced his biennial budget for 2021-2023 to the State Legislature via a pre-recorded message, electing to appear virtually in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed budget, referred to as Badger Bounceback, recommends distributing roughly $91 billion towards a variety of state programs, which would raise state spending by about 10%.
Despite difficulties negotiating past budgets, Governor Evers rejected the notion that these policies are legislative ‘non-starters.’
“Don’t let anyone tell you we can’t afford to support our farmers, our rural communities, and our small businesses while protecting our natural resources and investing in new, clean jobs. Don’t let anyone tell you we can’t spend within our means while still supporting Wisconsinites who need help to recover. Because they’re wrong,” Evers said.
The budget proposes directing more than $300 million towards economic development. About two thirds of that will help small businesses recover from pandemic losses, while the remaining $100 million will fund a venture capital program designed to help startups.
Another notable target of the proposal is funding for education.
Evers, who served as the state’s Superintendent for ten years, proposed investing more than $700 million in special education aid, with money also going towards technical colleges, early education and childcare, and the University of Wisconsin (UW) system. The budget also recommends keeping the UW systems’ tuition freeze in place for the next two years.
Following difficulties faced by the Department of Workforce Development during the pandemic, Evers also recommended putting $79 million towards upgrading Wisconsin’s outdated unemployment system.
Other initiatives recommended to receive funding include climate change prevention and remediation, revamping Wisconsin’s criminal justice system, and expanding Medicaid.
Evers’ plan also follows up on his previous attempt to repeal parts of Act 10. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the proposal will attempt to get rid of “right-to-work” laws and re-establish collective bargaining rights for government workers, among other changes to the law. State Republicans rejected the repeal of “right-to-work” legislation in the Governor’s last budget, and they indicated that negotiations on the law are similarly off the table this year.
Notably absent from the Governor’s address was any mention of legalizing recreational marijuana, which Evers’ office announced would be included in the budget the previous week. Recommendations to legalize marijuana for recreational use do still appear in the budget proposal.
In a press conference following the Governor’s proposal, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos expressed concern that Evers’ budget is more idealistic than practical.
“Putting poison pills in the budget, which are things that he clearly knows have zero chance of ever passing a Republican Legislature, like the repeal of Act 10 or the legalization of marijuana, really seem to make it look like he’s not serious about governing, he’s serious about politics,” Vos said.
The February 16th address marks the start of tense negotiations between the Governor and the Republican-controlled state Legislature. In 2019, Evers’ initially proposed budget underwent dramatic edits during negotiations with the Legislature, and this budget will likely follow a similar path.
In addition to Vos, some of the state’s top Republicans have also indicated that Evers’ proposal is a non-starter.
Evers addressed concerns about this at the closing of his speech, calling on the Legislature to act in spite of any disagreements they may have.
“To my friends in the Legislature: our opportunity to bounce back from this crisis calls for you to summon the will to get this done….You can disagree with me if you want, but don’t punish the people we serve so you can settle a score no one but you is keeping,” Evers said.