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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Gov. Evers releases his 2021-23 budget, unlikely to go far in GOP legislature

Gov. Tony Evers delivered his $81 billion 2021-23 budget in a virtual address to the state legislature on Tuesday night that includes legalizing marijuana, expanding Medicaid and helping small businesses recover from financial damage due to the pandemic. 

However, it’s likely Republicans in the state legislature will rewrite most or all of the budget Evers proposed, like they did in 2018. Assembly speaker Robin Vos said he assumed GOP lawmakers would throw out Evers’ proposal and start from scratch in a press conference after Evers’ speech. 

Evers’ most eye-catching proposal is to legalize recreational marijuana — despite trying and failing to legalize it in his 2018 budget — and use the projected $165 million in annual revenue it would create to reinvest in rural communities, in part through equity aid and sparsity grants.

Fifteen other states have legalized recreational marijuana already, including neighboring states Illinois and Michigan. Minnesota has also legalized medicinal marijuana, leaving Wisconsin as the dry state in a bowl.

“Legalizing and taxing marijuana in Wisconsin — just like we do already with alcohol — ensures a controlled market and safe product are available for both recreational and medicinal users and can open the door for countless opportunities for us to reinvest in our communities and create a more equitable state,” Evers said in a release last week.

However, it’s very likely state Republicans will just toss out that portion of the budget entirely. Multiple GOP members have released statements that condemn Evers attempt to legalize weed.

“While every person who uses pot does not become addicted, nearly every person who becomes hooked on drugs, whether it be pot or harder substances, begins with pot,” Rep. Barbra Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc) said in a release. “Marijuana interferes with normal transmission of neurotransmitters in the brain.”

Evers also focused on expanding Medicaid, asking for $600 million which would result in 11-percent increases in funding each year of the plan for nursing facilities across the state. 

He also wants to expand the state’s BadgerCare Plus health program under the Affordable Care Act — or Obamacare — to provide coverage to thousands of people in the state. Thirty-nine other states have already accepted the federal Medicaid expansion funds, including nearly every other state in the midwest. 

Obamacare requires the federal government to pick up more health-care costs when states broaden Medicaid programs, which would see state costs go down by $643 million over two years.

Evers wants to put $150 million of those savings toward treating mental health and substance abuse.

The new budget would also provide $200 million in stimulus over two years to small businesses to help them retain and rehire lost jobs, and a $100 million fund for venture capital startups.

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“I know there have been sleepless nights worrying about finding work or being safe at work, worrying about the future of the business you built from the ground up, worrying about making sure you can keep the lights and heat on at home,” Evers said in his speech. “Well, tonight, Wisconsin, I want to tell you this: it’s going to be ok. We are going to be ok.”

The governor’s budget also includes proposals to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.15 by 2024 using incremental increases, as well as funding to study options to get the state to $15 per hour.

Additional measures include a rollback of Act 10 collective bargaining limits and a repeal of right-to-work legislation passed in 2015.

The UW System’s tuition freeze would continue as well for undergraduates in the state budget. It was first implemented in 2013 and is now running into its eighth and ninth years. UW-Madison is predicting a $320 million loss through the end of this fiscal year, however UW System interim President Tommy Thompson was told a tuition raise would not be allowed in the new state budget to help offset the losses.

The budget instead included a request from the UW System for a separate revenue fund for capital renovation projects, specifics of which have yet to be released.

Now that the Republican side of the legislature has the proposed budget, they will likely find places to cut spending to limit the budget. 

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