Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Friday signed a set of proposals passed quickly by the state's Republican-led Legislature in a lame-duck session last week. The bills would strip away some powers from his Democratic successor and restrict early voting, but Walker argued Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers' executive authority will remain "one of the most powerful in the nation."
Walker signed the bills in their entirety, with no changes or vetoes.
"Despite all the hype and hysteria out there, these bills do nothing to fundamentally diminish executive authority," Walker said in a statement. "The bottom line is the new governor will continue to be one of the most powerful chief executives in the country."
Before signing the bills at the Green Bay state office building, Walker noted that nothing in the bills would take away Evers' broad, line-item veto authority or his powers to appoint cabinet members and some state and local government officials, to sign off on administrative rules, to introduce a two-year state budget and to pardon convicted felons.
But Evers said Waker's decision to sign the bills was a decision "to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin."
"This will no doubt be his legacy," Evers said in a statement. "The people demanded a change on November 6th, and they asked us to solve problems, not pick petty, political fights. The people of Wisconsin expect more from our government than what has happened in our state over the past few weeks."
After Walker signed the bills, Evers told reporters in Madison he is "looking at all options." He did not take questions.
"I will be reviewing our options and will do everything we can to make sure the people of the state are not overlooked or ignored," Evers said.
Shortly after Evers spoke with reporters, the liberal One Wisconsin Institute announced that it will team up with the National Redistricting Foundation to challenge the laws. The National Redistricting Foundation, an offshoot of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, is led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Both groups have successfully challenged previous Walker policies.
Walker's approval of the bills comes the day after his announcement that the state's economic development agency had reached a tax incentive deal with Kimberly-Clark to keep the company from closing one of its Fox Valley plants. The extraordinary session bills remove the ability to strike such a deal without legislative approval.
Since lawmakers approved the lame-duck bills last week, Walker has faced calls from Democrats and a handful of Republicans urging him to veto them entirely. Republican former Gov. Scott McCallum told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the effort "appears completely political, (like) a power grab," while longtime GOP donor Sheldon Lubar and former talk radio host Charlie Sykes have urged Walker to consider his legacy as he weighs a decision on the bills.
Walker responded to the "legacy" appeals by tweeting a list of accomplishments from his two terms in office.
"To me, if there is any talk about a legacy, I want this to be my legacy," Walker said Thursday as he announced the Kimberly-Clark deal.
After signing the bills on Friday, Walker said they don't change his legacy and argued they don't "fundamentally change" the power of any governor who comes after him.
"Over our eight years I’m proud to tell you that I’m happy with the legacy that we’ll leave in the state of Wisconsin," Walker said, pointing to accomplishments including a record-low unemployment rate and the state's deal with the Foxconn technology company.
Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul has said the laws are "virtually certain" to end up in litigation.
In a statement, Kaul said Walker signed "stunningly bad legislation that makes changes to the way our government functions in order to diminish the impact of this year’s elections."
Evers said he will "put the people of Wisconsin first and work to find common ground," focusing on "fully funding public education, fixing our crumbling roads and bridges, and ensuring health care is affordable and protects people who have pre-existing conditions."
Voters on Nov. 6 elected Democrats to lead the executive and judicial branches, but Republicans retained majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. Proponents of the legislation have argued it is necessary to maintain a balance of power among each branch of state government, while opponents say it unfairly restricts the authority of the incoming Democratic administration.
Walker signed three bills into law:
This bill gives the Legislature more oversight over how the Department of Transportation spends money and how roads are built. It also requires at least 70 percent of the budget for southwest Wisconsin freeway megaprojects and other major highway rehabilitation projects to come from federal funds.
The legislation also eliminates the DOT's authority to transfer state and federal funding between highway programs.
The bill also slightly lowers the state's income tax rates in response to about $60 million in online sales tax revenue the state now collects from out-of-state retailers after a recent Supreme Court ruling.
Under this bill, the state cannot withdraw from a lawsuit without legislative approval — a change that will likely prevent Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul from upholding their campaign promises to remove Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
The legislation also eliminates the solicitor general's office. It also allows lawmakers to hire private attorneys to intervene on their behalf if a state law is challenged in court. Lawmakers, not the attorney general, will be given final approval of legal settlements.
The bill will also prevent Evers from banning guns in the Capitol without legislative approval, and will limit the ability of Evers' administration to implement the rules that dictate how state laws are enforced.
Under the bill, legislators will have increased influence over the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and the WEDC board, not the governor, will appoint the job creation agency's CEO. The governor's power to appoint a CEO will be restored in September 2019.
The bill also limits the time during which early voting may take place to two weeks before an election. A similar provision was struck down by a federal judge in 2016.
This bill codifies into state law a work requirement for able-bodied, childless adults under age 50 who are insured through the state's BadgerCare Plus program. BadgerCare Plus is available to adults whose incomes fall below the poverty threshold. President Donald Trump's administration approved the work requirement in October, but Evers said last month he is considering ending the policy.
Also under the bill, some childless adults insured under BadgerCare will be required to pay monthly premiums depending on their income level, and will be charged co-payments for nonemergency visits to the emergency room.
The bill also codifies a plan authorized by Walker to create a reinsurance pool — a tool available under the Affordable Care Act to compensate insurers for covering high-risk individuals who, under the Obama-era federal law, cannot be charged higher premiums based on their status. The effort was designed to bring premiums down and encourage insurers to participate in the individual marketplace.