by Baylor Spears, Wisconsin Examiner
May 3, 2023
The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) started its work crafting Wisconsin’s next biennial budget on Tuesday by removing hundreds of items from the budget proposed by Gov. Tony Evers including Medicaid expansion, the legalization of marijuana and paid family and medical leave.
The motion passed 12-4 by the Republican-led committee on Tuesday stripped a total of 545 items from the budget, technically barring the items from being brought forth again during the process. The committee also passed a motion to take the state budget “back to base,” starting over from the current budget passed by the Republican-led Legislature and signed by Evers two years ago.
JFC co-chair Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) said Evers’ budget was “unrealistic” and the vote was a rejection of his “massive expansion of government and reckless spending.” He pointed out that Evers’ plan would mean a 17.5% increase in Wisconsin’s spending if passed in its entirety.
The decision to remove the items was not surprising as Republican leaders have said for months that they planned to throw out Evers’ entire budget. JFC has started the same way since Evers was elected in 2018. Over the next several weeks, the committee will debate and vote on what to include in the budget.
Born also said ahead of the meeting that non-fiscal items should be debated in “the light of day” through the normal legislative process and not in the budget.
“We are doing today what we did two years ago, four years ago,” Born said “We’re removing policy from this budget. This budget is going to be about numbers, not about policy.”
Democrats on the committee lambasted Republicans’ actions, saying they are shutting down debate on the issues, keeping the state behind and aren’t listening to the majority of Wisconsinites, who expressed strong support for many of the provisions in Evers’ budget during the last month’s listening sessions.
Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) emphasized that there are no guarantees that the items being pulled out of the budget will ever be brought forth as stand-alone bills and said Evers’ budget was crafted to address the issues that are most important to Wisconsinites.
“If we are going to make sure that we are going to address the issues that the state is facing, we are going to have to make sure that we invest resources in those issues. By pulling all of these important things out, we’re failing to do that,” Johnson said. “But most importantly, we’re failing to listen to the people.”
Johnson also said Republicans’ actions aren’t rooted in their concern for Wisconsin’s financial standing, pointing out that they are leaving money on the table by rejecting Medicaid expansion and marijuana legalization.
“If the argument is really about money, we would be accepting every single dollar that’s available to ensure that Wisconsinites all across the state have the quality of life that they would expect,” Johnson said ahead of the meeting.
According to a legislative report, Wisconsinites have contributed about $36 million in tax revenue to Illinois through marijuana purchases. A November poll conducted by Marquette Law School found that 64% of registered Wisconsin voters support marijuana legalization.
The state could save an estimated $1.6 billion from accepting federal Medicaid expansion funds. As of March of this year, Wisconsin is one of 10 states that haven’t accepted the expansion.
“This is something where Wisconsin Republicans are so much of an outlier versus what is happening nationally, and it’s one of the most fiscally irresponsible decisions that this committee has made,” Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) said.
Born said while Democrats and Republicans agree there is a need for Wisconsin to grow, they have very different views on how the committee can accomplish that.
“When the solutions apparently from Dem[ocrat]s are more government, more spending, more welfare, smoke more weed, yeah, our approaches are going to be different,” Born said. “It’s going to be a budget that’s made for Wisconsin.”
Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) said Republicans don’t have a plan for the budget and have not said what their alternative to Evers’ budget is. He said Republicans will instead spend the next several weeks proposing half-measures.
“The governor has set a benchmark. He’s put out the budget,” Goyke said. “We’re starting to debate now. In the next eight weeks, Republicans on this committee will be chasing that example, chasing that leadership, that standard.”
The deadline for the budget is July 1. If the budget is not passed by the Legislature and signed by Evers, Wisconsin will continue to operate under the current budget passed in 2021. The Republican co-chairs of the committee were confident that by the end of the process, they would present a budget that Evers will support.
“We’re going to build this budget much the same way that we have for two budgets already with this governor, we’ll build a budget that’s a good budget for Wisconsin that he’ll want to sign when we send it to him because of all the good things that are in,” Born said.
On Tuesday, Evers reacted to the committee’s actions on Twitter, calling the vote a “foolish and wasted opportunity.”
“These aren’t fringe ideas, controversial concepts, or Republican or Democratic priorities — they’re about doing the right thing,” Evers wrote after highlighting 15 of the removed items.
Budget items removed by GOP
Here are some of the items the JFC removed from the budget Tuesday:
- Providing 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to state employees
- Accepting the full Medicaid expansion
- Limiting out-of-pocket costs of insulin to $35
- A 10% tax cut for individuals earning $100,000 or less and couples who earn $150,000 or less
- Marijuana legalization
- A $290 million investment for the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium
- $235 million to support mental health in K-12 schools
- A freeze in enrollment cap in Wisconsin’s school choice program starting in the 2024-25 school year
- $120 million to create a program to provide free school lunches to Wisconsin students
- A provision to prohibit vaping on school property
- Universal background checks for firearm purchases
- Limiting the use of restraints on women who are in labor in correctional facilities and establishing a doula program
- Provision to begin automatic voter registration
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives
- Allowing undocumented people to get driver’s licenses
- Repeal of Wisconsin’s “right to work” law, which prohibits contracts between labor unions and employers that specify the employer may only hire unionized workers
Republican leaders said discussions are ongoing for items not removed from the budget on Tuesday.
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