Wisconsin’s Democratic governor scales back Republican tax cut, signs state budget

Jul 5, 2023, 9:46 AM

Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers displays a two-year budget authored by the Republicans control...

Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers displays a two-year budget authored by the Republicans controlled Legislature that he signed, Wednesday, July 5, 2023, in Madison, Wis. Evers used his partial veto power to remove tax cuts for the state's wealthiest taxpayers and protect 180 diversity, equity and inclusion jobs Republicans wanted to cut at the University of Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Harm Venhuizen)

(AP Photo/Harm Venhuizen)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed off on a two-year spending plan Wednesday after dramatically scaling back the size of a Republican income tax cut that would have moved the state closer to a flat rate.

Evers, a Democrat, called the Republican-authored budget “imperfect and incomplete” but stopped short of vetoing the entire plan, which would have required the Legislature to start over. He called on Republicans to do more to address key areas, including higher education and child care support.

Republicans proposed tapping nearly half of the state’s projected $7 billion budget surplus to cut income taxes across the board by $3.5 billion. Evers reduced the size of the cut to $800 million by doing away with rate reductions for the two highest brackets.

Evers was unable to undo the $32 million cut to the University of Wisconsin, which was funding that Republicans said would have gone toward diversity, equity and inclusion — or DEI — programming and staff. The budget Evers signed does allow for the university to get the funding later if it can show it would go toward workforce development and not DEI.

Evers previously threatened to veto the entire budget over the UW cut. But on Wednesday, he noted that the university can recoup the cut, and he used his partial veto to protect 188 DEI positions at UW that were slated for elimination under the Republican plan.

Evers called cuts to UW funding “shortsighted, misguided and wrong for the workforce and wrong for our state.”

Democratic state lawmakers were unified in voting against the budget. They argued that Republicans were misguided in prioritizing cutting taxes over funding other areas such as a pandemic-era child care program that will see its money run out this year. Democrats also criticized an increase in aid to private schools that accept students using a taxpayer-funded voucher.

But most Democratic lawmakers stopped short of calling for Evers to veto the entire plan. Some of the ones who voted against the budget joined Evers, local leaders, members of his Cabinet and others at a bill signing ceremony in the Capitol.

Evers ignored a call from 15 liberal advocacy and government watchdog groups that had urged him to “fight like hell for our collective future” and veto the entire budget, which they argued would further racial and economic inequality.

“By vetoing this budget, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the well-being of our state and its citizens,” the groups said in a letter last week. “If you refuse to veto this dangerous and harmful budget, it will leave a durable mark on your record.”

Groups endorsing the letter included the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Voces de la Frontera, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

Evers said vetoing the entire budget would have left schools in the lurch and meant rejecting $125 million in funding to combat water pollution caused by so-called forever chemicals known as PFAS, along with turning down $525 million for affordable housing and pay raises for state workers.

No governor has vetoed the budget in its entirety since 1930. This marks the third time that Evers has signed a budget into law that was passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature. In 2019, he issued 78 partial vetoes and in 2021 he made 50. That year, Evers took credit for the income tax cut written by Republicans and used it as a key part of his successful 2022 reelection campaign.

This year he made 51 partial vetoes.

The budget also increases pay for all state employees by 6% over the next two years, with higher increases for guards at the state’s understaffed state prisons.

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Wisconsin’s Democratic governor scales back Republican tax cut, signs state budget