For the Record: Gov. Evers on areas of compromise, tax increases in budget plan

Gov. Evers joined News 3 Now’s For the Record on Sunday to discuss a $91 billion budget proposal laid out earlier this week. Republicans have said they plan to reject many of the policy proposals included in the brief, including issues like raising minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, and a partial repeal of Act 10. A scaled-down transcript of the interview is below.

Why include policies in a budget plan that don’t have a chance in the legislature?

“I’m not sure they don’t,” Gov. Evers said, listing policies like sending businesses aid, investing in venture capital, and increasing state funding of public schools to a two-thirds share. “A lot of this I think is puffery. Let’s just get to work. I think they’re for these things; the Bucky’s promise and getting low income people tuition free across the state. I can’t believe they’re against that.”

You mentioned some things like K-12 education, the Bucky’s Promise Program, that could get bipartisan support. But things like marijuana legalization, raising minimum wage, Medicaid expansion, repeal of Act 10. These are all things that they’ve called nonstarters. What about those?

“Those policies didn’t come out of thin air. You mentioned legalizing recreational marijuana; it’s passed many, many referendums across the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said. “Medicaid expansion, same thing. You look at the polls, people are saying ‘Why should we be paying all this money into the federal government and not getting in return what we should have?’ Healthcare is one of the top priorities for people in Wisconsin. I know they have said they’re against some things, but when they say they’re against some things, that also means they aren’t interested in representing the will of the people.

You asked for two-thirds funding for K-12 two years ago, you’re asking for it again this year. Budget leaders had a virtual luncheon talking about this; they’re saying they aren’t sure yet if two-thirds is possible. What compromise level of K-12 education funding are you willing to sign off on like you did two years ago?

“We’ll wait till the end of the process. I’m unable to say right now what I’m going to agree to or not agree to. All I can tell you is A) they said it was a top priority four years ago, same people in leadership for the most part. And B) it is important. This is a recovery budget from a pandemic,” he noted. “When we come out of a pandemic and we need recovery we need to have some resources, and I think our proposal provides that.”

Where do you think the most likely areas of compromise are going to be on this?

“I think the money that we’re setting aside for WEDC to provide small businesses,” Evers said. “And I think the $100 million that we have set aside for a venture fund through WEDC is also something that they’re going to agree to. Certainly the issue around broadband.”

Your plan would also raise taxes on some businesses and people making more than $400,000 a year. There’s also a number of new tax credits. You promised not to raise taxes when you were campaigning, but both in your first and now your second budget, there’s tax increases. What’s your response on that, and is there room to accomplish your proposals without raising taxes?

“We have to also take into account that we’ve lowered taxes on people of limited incomes too. It almost balances out. I think if we get to a balance phase, we’re close right now. We end the fiscal year with a balance,” Evers said. “It’s easy to say where we’ve made some tax increases. But it’s with the manufacturing tax and it’s for people that make a fair amount of money, and that results in tax increase for them. But we’ve got an almost equally large tax decrease for people that struggle. So it’s about fairness.”

This budget doesn’t make a lot of changes with the rainy day fund specifically. Should the state be sitting on almost a billion dollars in rainy day funding, when many would argue that the last year has been “a rainy day”?

“If anything’s a rainy day, it’s during this pandemic certainly. We’ve just been following the law. I think it’s something that we can look at, but we’re required to set aside so much, and we’ve done that and taken some money and put it in the balance too,” Evers said. “It’s something we can look at; I think people can rightly say that might be too much, but it might be the right amount. But I’m willing to look at that, if it’s excessive.”

View the full conversation in the videos linked to this article, where Gov. Evers discussed his juvenile justice reform and why Medicaid expansion would be his top priority to see an unlikely compromise. Budget leaders of the Joint Finance Committee didn’t respond to interview invitations this week.