Last night, Governor Tony Evers stepped up to the podium to deliver the third biennial budget proposal during his time in office.
This time, however, is markedly different from previous years.
The new budget proposal comes at a time when the state is projected to take in more than seven billion dollars in a budget surplus.
Evers began by acknowledging the current fiscal position as being one of the most comfortable in the state’s history, and highlighted using some of that margin to pay off some of the state’s debt, pass tax relief programs for middle and working class families, invest in infrastructure and housing, and support paid parental leave.
“Transportation and infrastructure is essential to preparing our workforce and our economy for the future, and we have to start right away,” Evers said.
Most of the proposals Governor Evers brought forward are ones he has brought up in previous years, and have been routinely shot down by the strong Republican legislative majority.
Staying true to his roots, a cornerstone of Evers’ budget is education funding.
Evers pledged his support for fully funded universal school breakfast and lunch programs, as well as a ten million dollar investment in access to computer science education across the state.
But it isn’t just classroom investment that makes up Evers’ education budget; mental health resources also received special attention as Evers quoted recent statistics related to the wellbeing of students during the pandemic.
“One in ten students attempted suicide. One in five students seriously considered attempting suicide. And the statistics are especially bleak for teen girls and LGBTQ students,” said Evers.
Addressing the press following the budget address, Republican legislators pounced on the cost of the budget. Here’s Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in his rebuttal:
“If you look at what we did in the last budget two years ago, Governor Evers delivered a budget that looked very much like the one tonight; it was chock-full of tax increases, spending, expansions of government, and at the end of the day, an unrealistic solution for what Wisconsin needs to solve its problems. We saw that again tonight. It was a budget that is absolutely devoid of reality.”
While pushback from Republicans is nothing new to the Evers administration, Republican lawmakers hinted that there is one item on Evers’ proposal that they might compromise on.
That item? Giving more money back to local governments, or a process called shared revenue.
“Last month I pledged my support for a budget provision to send twenty percent of the state’s sales tax revenue back to our local communities for shared revenue, and I’m excited to share our budget includes that proposal, I don’t care where it came from, providing more than a half a billion dollars more per year into resources to invest in key priorities like public safety,” Evers said.
Currently, the state imposes restrictions on the ability of local governments to raise their own money to fund services like public safety or education.
While the most significant source of local revenue is property taxes, local governments are capped at increasing property taxes. And to exceed that cap, they must put the question to voters through a referendum.
Those referendums have skyrocketed in recent years. Last November, local governments posed more than a 100 local referendum questions to exceed state limits on local property taxes. More than three-quarters were approved by voters to fund things like public safety and new school buildings, according to the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
In a statement yesterday, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway applauded Evers for proposing a 20% shared revenue with local governments, saying “For too long our local governments have been operating under severe state revenue limits and diminishing state assistance.”
The Governor’s budget heads to the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee in the state legislature, which will spend the next few months crafting their counter-proposal.
Reporting for WORT news, I’m Erin Ashley.
Image Courtesy: Wisconsin EYE