Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican leaders of the state Legislature emerged from their first joint meeting on Tuesday with some lines of opposition drawn, while emphasizing areas where they believe they can compromise.
Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes met in a closed caucus with the Republican lawmakers who hold majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
Evers pledged to include a provision to accept the federal Medicaid expansion in his first budget proposal despite promises from Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, that the move would be a "nonstarter" for Republicans in the Legislature.
"It’s an important part of our program and we will respectfully submit that as part of our budget and fight for it," Evers told reporters after the meeting. "We feel very confident that we will win that fight."
Vos said his request to Evers on the Medicaid expansion was "don’t pick things that you know have no chance of passing just to score political points."
According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, accepting the expansion would bring in about $180 million per year in federal funding, and the number of people covered by Medicaid would grow by about 75,000. Republicans oppose the move because it would put more people on government-sponsored health care.
Despite Republicans' firm opposition to the proposal, Evers said he will make his case directly to people throughout the state in hopes that they will ask their elected officials to support it.
"We're not going to burn the Capitol down here," Evers said. "We're going to disagree."
After clashing initially over Evers' plans for the state's economic development agency, Fitzgerald said it was a "huge victory" to hear from the governor that he will not take away resources from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation in his first budget. Evers had said on the campaign trail that he planned to dissolve WEDC.
"The caucuses impressed upon us how important WEDC is and the fact that while it had a shaky start, it is now being successful and it’s highly audited as they said, so they feel comfortable with the way it is," Evers said.
Because the agency will oversee the state's multibillion-dollar deal with Foxconn, Evers said he will continue to push for it to be transparent and accountable. Vos said Republicans agree with Evers on that.
Last week, Assembly Republicans sent a letter to Evers outlining areas where they see opportunities to work across the aisle. Those initiatives included cutting income taxes, boosting state support for K-12 education, protecting the state's groundwater supply and expanding options for affordable child care.
Evers has proposed cutting income taxes by 10 percent for low- and middle-income individuals and families while scaling back the state's manufacturing and agriculture tax credit, which reduces the state income tax for manufacturers and agricultural producers.
Republican leaders are interested in cutting income taxes, Vos said, but they oppose measures to take away existing credits.
"Taking away a credit, which makes someone's taxes go up, is a tax increase," Vos said.
On most areas, including transportation funding, the elected officials did not exchange many specific ideas. The meeting was more of an opportunity for introductions, Evers said. Fitzgerald said the "start of a dialogue" was "well worth our time and effort."
"Just because you have divided government doesn’t mean that nothing is going to get done," Vos said. "We have areas of common ground."