The budget Gov. Tony Evers introduced in February will likely look very different after Thursday when GOP lawmakers are expected to remove hundreds of the governor’s proposals and trim the plan by billions of dollars.
From an expansion of Medicaid, to the legalization of marijuana, to the modernization of Wisconsin’s unemployment system, Republican lawmakers are scheduled to remove 384 of the governor’s budget provisions with a single vote.
The move will reduce the amount of federal money coming into Wisconsin by $2.4 billion and reduce state tax revenue by more than $1 billion compared to what the governor asked for.
The dramatic first step by the GOP leaves many of the biggest budget decisions yet to be decided, like how much Wisconsin spends on K-12 schools and the University of Wisconsin System.
Even so, Thursday’s vote will have a lasting impact on the rest of the budget process because there will simply be less money to work with.
“It fundamentally alters the budget going forward, and if we accepted those federal funds, we’d have more state resources available to fund the priorities of Wisconsin,” said Milwaukee state Rep. Evan Goyke, one of four Democrats who sit on the Legislature’s budget committee.
Republican lawmakers said the step was necessary because the governor’s budget was never realistic to begin with.
“I know certainly there’s people that are unhappy with these actions, but it shouldn’t be any surprise,” said Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, one of the GOP co-chairs of the budget committee, during a forum with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Wednesday. “We are in a good economic situation for the state of Wisconsin. We have good revenue, we’ve got a solid surplus, we can make investments in priorities, we do not have to be taxing the businesses and the citizens of the state of Wisconsin.”
Strictly from a financial standpoint, a handful of proposals on the chopping block Thursday would take the biggest chunk out of the budget.
Evers proposed scaling back a tax credit for the wealthiest manufacturers and another for capital gains — moves that would generate a combined $838 million for state government. Under the GOP proposal up for a vote Thursday, both would be gone.
Evers also proposed expanding Medicaid for adults without kids who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — up from 100 percent now. The change would save the state roughly $1.6 billion over the next two years.
The plan to legalize recreational marijuana was also projected to generate about $165 million for the state, much of which would be set aside in a fund for rural schools.
Republicans say that after they remove the proposals, they’ll rebuild the budget from scratch or “base.”
“We will be working off a budget that Gov. Evers signed two years ago,” said Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, the Senate co-chair of the budget committee. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to be able to fund the priorities of the state.”
But many of the proposals they’ll likely cut Thursday have little effect on the budget’s bottom line and are instead pure policy disagreements between Evers, a Democrat, and a Legislature that’s been run by Republicans for the past decade. Cutting them all in a single vote means the debates won’t linger.
“It’s the way to quiet dissension,” Goyke said. “Some of these issues are incredibly popular.”
Two years ago when Evers proposed an identical expansion of Medicaid, an April 2019 survey from Marquette University Law School found 70 percent of voters supported it. That same survey found 59 percent of voters said marijuana should be legal while 83 percent favored medical marijuana.