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Gov. Tony Evers signs first state budget into law after issuing 78 partial vetoes

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BUDGET

Gov. Tony Evers signed the biennial budget into law on Wednesday: "This budget is just a down payment on the people's budget."

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed the Republican-crafted state budget into law Wednesday after issuing 78 line-item vetoes and moving to increase school spending by around $65 million in the next two years. 

The actions came after the GOP-controlled Legislature approved the $81 billion spending plan last week, sending it to the governor's desk.

The signing follows weeks of speculation surrounding how the first-term governor would act on the inaugural two-year spending plan of his young administration — including how Evers would wield his powerful partial-veto authority on the document that didn't contain many of his key priorities

The version of the plan Republicans approved featured some $2 billion less in spending than what Evers originally requested, and it didn't include measures such as accepting the Medicaid expansion, providing $1.4 billion more in education funding and raising the gas tax for the first time in more than a decade.

Still, Evers during a news conference at the Capitol Wednesday credited his budget and administration for being able to "finally move the needle" in the GOP-controlled Legislature. 

"But I have to make this clear: this budget is just a down payment on the people's budget,” he said, as he pledged to continue pushing for the state to take the federal Medicaid expansion dollars. 

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, called Evers' 78 vetoes "minimal" and said the GOP budget was "kept intact" for the most part. 

“None of (the vetoes) jump out at me so significant that I think you can make the case that he really changed the document that we passed on the floor of the Senate last week,” he told reporters.

Evers' decision to sign the bill into law came after he struck out language from the plan surrounding Capitol security provisions, Tesla's ability to directly sell electric vehicles and a mileage-based fee study. 

While he wielded his veto pen in other areas, he decided to leave in place a Republican-backed middle-income tax cut plan, similar to one he vetoed earlier this year. 

BUDGET

Gov. Tony Evers signs the budget Wednesday at the Capitol.

Evers also used his authority to reduce funding for implementing and administering work requirements and drug testing for FoodShare recipients -- moves Assembly Speaker Robin Vos slammed. Other partial vetoes came in the area of K-12 spending, in which the former state schools superintendent used his pen to increase per-pupil allocations by $87 million over the biennium.

But he also took out $9 million in each year of the budget for the state's personal electronic computing devices program, meaning the overall increase Evers approved for K-12 is around $65 million extra over what Republicans approved. 

The change would also mean per-pupil payments would increase by $63 starting in the 2019-20 school year over the GOP plan. 

Under the GOP budget bill, schools would have seen increases of $25 per student in each year of the budget, meaning payments would have totaled $679 per pupil in 2019-20 and $704 in the following year.

Evers' $87 million increase, though, would push those payments to $742 in each school year, in addition to his action to expand schools' eligibility for supplemental per-pupil funding. 

The moves come after Wisconsin Association of School Boards received pushback from Fitzgerald when the group's lobbyist in a letter to Evers urged him to use his partial veto authority to increase per-pupil categorical aid payments by $17.5 million in the next two years. 

Fitzgerald in a tweet this week slammed the letter for calling on Evers to "skirt legislative intent" and defended the GOP-approved budget as "a good plan for K-12." 

In all, the GOP-approved K-12 education plan contained an increase of around $500 million for schools over the next two years, including a $97 million raise for special education funding — rather than the $606 million Evers proposed — and more money for per-student aids.

Evers' increases to per-pupil aid would push that total to a raise of some $570 million. But the figure means the state still isn't projected to cover two-thirds of public school funding via the budget, as the governor initially sought.

In addition to the partial vetoes Evers issued, he kept in the Republican-backed middle-income tax cut, totaling more than $300 million over the biennium. The decision followed a separate GOP-backed tax cut bill that cleared the Legislature earlier this session and was vetoed by Evers.

Evers instead sought a more than $400 million income tax decrease each year, which would have been funded through the state’s surplus funds and capping an existing income tax credit for manufacturers. 

When the GOP-backed middle-income tax cut is paired with a separate income tax reduction in a standalone bill, individuals would see on average a $136 per-person reduction in 2020. Evers also signed that legislation Wednesday. 

Evers in his veto message said the $450 million combined tax cut is "targeted not for those at the top of the income spectrum, but toward working, middle-class Wisconsinites." 

"This tax cut exemplifies what can happen when Republicans and Democrats work together to do what is best for the people of our state," he said, adding he vetoed the previous, similar GOP plan "because the decision needed to be made in the full context of the budget."

In other partial vetoes:

FoodShare requirements: Evers used his veto pen to target funding Republicans set aside for work requirements and drug screening and testing for FoodShare recipients. 

Under former Gov. Scott Walker, GOP lawmakers put in place drug screening, testing and treatment provisions that have yet to be implemented by the Department of Health Services.

They also established requirements for able-bodied adults with kids to work or participate in a workforce development program to qualify for FoodShare unless they meet certain qualifications. 

Evers decreased funding for both those areas, writing in his veto message on the work-related provisions that the state should be weighing "the additional barriers that some parents face in meeting work requirements."

For the work requirements specifically, Evers' veto to eliminate funding tied to the participation of those individuals in work programs means the state will be unable to pay for participant reimbursements for those adults, according to DHS.

Instead, a DHS spokeswoman said they'll be placed on a waitlist and be exempted from sanctions as allowed under state and federal law, as Evers directed in his veto message.

Vos, R-Rochester, knocked Evers' vetoes for letting people "cheat the system by not following the welfare reforms" the Legislature passed. 

"Because of his partial vetoes, he’s starving programs that incentivize work, undermining their implementation and skirting the law," Vos said. "We know people support drug testing and work requirements for welfare recipients and this budget ignores that fact."

Tesla provision: Evers opted to nix language from the budget that would have allowed Tesla to directly sell vehicles to consumers, bypassing dealers.

Republicans added the measure to the plan in an amendment last week as they sought to secure enough Senate GOP support to pass the budget through that chamber.

The provision, which came under scrutiny, had previously been backed by Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield. He ultimately opted to vote for the budget on the Senate floor after it was amended to include that measure and others, giving Republicans the 17 votes they needed.

Kapenga, who has a website for a business that purportedly sells electric vehicle parts and rebuilds and sells salvaged Teslas, said previously the language alone wasn't enough to win his support.  

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Mileage-based fees study: The GOP-supported budget included a provision surrounding a state study of mileage-based fees.

The language, which drew public scrutiny in the lead-up to the Legislature's votes on the plan, would have required the Department of Transportation to submit a recommendation to the state’s 16-member budget committee, which could then be approved or revised by the panel, rather than the full Legislature.

Lawmakers ultimately decided to amend the language to ensure approval by the full Legislature would be needed to create new fees based on how many miles vehicles traveled.

But Evers rejected the language in its entirety Wednesday. 

Prisons: Language that would free up $5 million to take initial steps to replace the Green Bay Correctional Institution was also removed from the budget. 

Evers in his veto message wrote his move would let the Department of Corrections use the funding "for higher priority institutional needs."

"I object to building a new maximum security correctional facility as we continue to explore needed criminal justice reform in Wisconsin," he wrote. 

But GOP Rep. David Steffen, whose district includes the prison, slammed Evers' decision, saying in a statement the move means the facility "will continue to degrade, waste even more taxpayers’ dollars and accelerate the operational and safety crisis at our state’s most notorious prison.”

In a separate move, Evers also rejected the Legislature's plan to take away funding from state-run facilities that would replace the youth prisons and house the most violent juvenile offenders. 

Under the plan to replace Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, $25 million was going to go to the state-run operations, but that figure was zeroed-out by the Legislature's budget committee. 

Security measures for Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes: Evers also nixed a provision that would have clamped down on the level of security and protection Barnes can receive, which was included in the transportation budget the Legislature approved. 

The move sought to limit State Patrol protection dollars that could be spent for Barnes’ safety and security over the budget based on what was spent in the 2017-19 biennium under former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. 

The move comes after WisPolitics.com previously reported Barnes had nine times more hours of security protection in the first two months of his term than Kleefisch did all of last year.

Quarries: Another provision from the transportation budget Evers eliminated would have impacted local governments’ ability to regulate quarries, where materials are mined for transportation and other projects.

The quarry provisions are similar to a GOP-backed initiative that was included in the current biennial budget but also vetoed by then-Gov. Scott Walker. 

Capitol security study: Evers' actions also removed a proposal that would have required public safety officials to look at ways to bolster security measures in and around the state Capitol.

The language would have directed the State Capitol Police to work with the Madison Police Department to finalize a report on safety measures for state employees and visitors alike. The report would have needed to be submitted to Evers and lawmakers by Jan. 1, 2020. 

Evers instead in his veto message called on the Capitol Police to review and provided any needed updates to its existing plan for building security in conjunction with MPD.

Evers' 78 partial vetoes are less than the around 100 issued by Walker in each of his final two budgets, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.

GOP leadership had told reporters Republicans sought to use their amendments last week to make the latest plan "line-item-veto-proof." But Evers Wednesday said he didn't "believe their work to make it veto-proof made any differences."

If lawmakers want to override any of the vetoed provisions, they have until the end of the legislative session, Dec. 31, 2021, to take the votes. Fitzgerald, the GOP Senate leader, said he isn't sure if there will be any legislative override attempts. 

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