By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The Legislature’s Republican majority has beaten Gov. Tony Evers at his own game, effectively taking away the Democrat’s big veto threat with a smart budget maneuver.
Evers has said at different turns he might veto a Republican-built budget that didn’t include his costly welfare/Medicaid expansion or didn’t dump a lot more money on K-12 education or didn’t include his liberal wish list ideas … The list of threats and demands goes on.
But a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (obtained by Wispolitics) spells out the inconvenient truth for Evers: vetoing the budget bill in full would cost Wisconsin about $2.2 billion in federal pandemic relief. That includes $1.54 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding targeted for Wisconsin’s schools.
Federal COVID relief laws require states to maintain funding for K-12 and higher education at certain levels under so-called Maintenance of Efforts agreements.
The budget as written, passed this week by the Legislature, meets the Maintenance of Effort requirements. If Evers vetoes the 2021-23 budget, Wisconsin would continue to operate on current budget spending levels. The existing level of education funding doesn’t meet the federal mandates.
Republican lawmakers have said they are not going to come back in to debate another budget proposal should Evers follow through with his veto threats. So — poof — the federal funds are gone. And the “education governor” would make them disappear through his all-or-nothing style of governance.
It’s a budget that effectively boxes Evers in, Capitol sources told Empower Wisconsin this week before the Assembly and Senate floor sessions. It delivers what conservatives sought — an unprecedented $3.4 billion in tax relief, the elimination of a tax bracket and a business tax altogether, and spending increases under 2 percent each year of the budget. And the spending plan, rebuilt from the ground up by Joint Finance Committee, cleans out hundreds of Evers’ left-wing initiatives, including major welfare expansion.
“I don’t know what the governor intends to do … I do know it would be politically foolish, bordering on suicidal, for him to reject” the historic tax cuts, said Sen. Duey Stroebel’s office. The Saukville Republican is a member of the Joint Finance Committee and a fiscal hawk.
Democrats — not many — but some, joined Republicans in passage of the budget bill this week. That’s a rare occurrence in deeply divided Wisconsin politics.
As it stands, sources say Evers is going to have to grit his teeth and sign the budget, with whatever partial vetoes he can scratch out. If he doesn’t, he’ll be the bad guy he accused Republicans of being last month when it looked like the JFC didn’t offer enough education funding to meet the federal COVID aid requirements.