Republican members on the Joint Finance Committee removed 545 provisions from Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed 2023-25 biennial budget plan at their first executive session Tuesday.
Evers’ priorities included legalizing marijuana, requiring universal background checks for gun purchases, expanding Medicaid, increasing funding for K-12 schools and investing in mental and behavioral health services.
“These aren’t fringe ideas, controversial concepts, or Republican or Democratic priorities – they’re about doing the right thing,” Evers tweeted after the committee’s vote. This is Evers’ third budget proposal since he took office in 2019.
With a single vote, Republicans dismantled Evers' proposals in favor of crafting their own budget drafts, which they said is "really made for Wisconsin"
“We will be taking our Wisconsin state budget process back to basics,” said Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), JFC co-chair.
It was expected the GOP-led committee would vote against Evers’ budget proposal as they have done to Evers’ past two proposals, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
Born said the Republican lawmakers “recognized right off the bat from the Governor’s document that [the budget proposal] was something that was unrealistic that we really can’t work with.”
In April, the committee held four public hearings across the state to discuss the state budget. While Republicans claim Evers’ budget doesn’t reflect Wisconsinites priorities, Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee), a Democratic committee member, said most Wisconsinites agreed and supported the investments Evers had proposed..
“They warned us about major disruptions to programs and services like childcare, family care, shared revenue, low Medicaid reimbursements, K-12 and special education and mental health,” Johnson said during a press conference held by Democratic committee members prior to Tuesday’s vote. “If these programs are not adequately funded, we will see further deterioration.”
Some agreement emerges despite budget denial
Both Republicans and Democrats agreed the state’s biennial budget should be used to address Wisconsin’s slow population growth by attracting and retaining residents.
In April, WPR reported deaths have exceeded births in the state since 2020. The state lost more than 105,000 people under the age of 26 between 2010 and 2020, according to a report by Forward Analytics.
And without further action, Wisconsin could lose up to 130,000 residents of prime working age by 2030 as young residents move away.
Still, Republicans and Democrats in the committee approached the issue differently.
“When the solutions from the Dems are more government, more spending, more welfare, smoke more weed, our approaches are going to be different,” Born said.
Throughout the session, Republican members repeatedly called Evers’ budget proposal “reckless” and said his plan would turn Wisconsin’s $7 billion surplus into a $4 billion deficit in two years.
“It pains me to see us lose people from rural Wisconsin,” Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) said. “But having over 1,800 pages of policy and creating over 800 new positions in no way shape or form is going to get more population in Wonewoc or in Cuba City.”
On the other hand, Democratic members argued that Republican policies are driving people away from the state and that the new budget ignores Wisconsinites’ voices.
“People are voting with their feet,” Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) said. “They are saying that the policies that the Republicans are in charge of are not what they want. They want policies in the budget.”
“The actions taken today by the majority party are going to make Wisconsin less competitive, less attractive, and they are going to dramatically increase our workforce quantity shortage challenges that we face in the state,” Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) added.
Some of Evers’ removed provisions were included in his past proposals.
Democrats have advocated for expanding the state’s Medicaid program, BadgerCare Plus, for years. But Republicans have rejected each call for expansion.
A sizable majority (70%) of Wisconsin voters said they support Medicaid expansion which would extend coverage access to 90,000 additional Wisconsinites, according to Johnson.
Evers’ reintroduction of the plan to legalize marijuana was also voted out despite 64% of Wisconsinites favoring legalization.
Over the next few weeks, the Joint Finance Committee will debate and vote on the budget before presenting it to the Legislature for approval later this spring.