Will Gov. Evers’ budget proposal trigger contentious budget battle with lawmakers?

Governor Tony Evers has been previewing major portions of his 2019-21 state budget proposal ahead of its full release this evening. Here’s what we know about some of the provisions to be included in Gov. Evers’ plan that will affect children and youth and state finances generally:

Gov. Evers is expected to propose:

A $1.4 billion (10 percent) increase in total in state spending for schools coupled with a revamping of school funding formula (a/k/a the Fair Funding for Our Future” proposal), and including major spending increases for special education, mental health services and targeted programs for special student populations. (See previous post.)

  • Before he was elected Governor, Dr. Evers submitted a Department of Public Instruction (DPI) budget request that included $606 million to increase reimbursements to school districts for required special education programs and services; $63 million to support and improve school mental health programs.
  • Gov. Evers’ plan will further call for fully funding full-day 4K; creating the state’s first funding stream for afterschool programs, and achieving two-thirds state funding of public schools without raising property taxes.
  • Legislative Republicans have questioned the state’s ability to fund such a large increase for schools.
  • Gov. Evers also proposes to use tribal gaming revenues to provide a roughly $1 million increase in grants for child welfare services for tribes over the next two years and earmark an additional $640,000 in tribal gaming revenues to prepare architectural plans for a proposed $8 million, 36-bed youth wellness/treatment center to treat opioid addiction for tribal and nontribal members.

Freezing enrollment in private school voucher programs beginning in the 2021-22 school year, suspend the creation of new independent charter schools until 2023 and creating new minimum standards for teacher licensing and school accreditation for private schools. (See previous post.)

  • The number of available vouchers would be frozen beginning in 2021. There are currently about 28,000 students using vouchers in Milwaukee and 10,000 in other parts of the state combined. Roughly 600 schools participate in the program, which has been growing. According to the governor’s office, the state’s voucher programs grew 8.7 percent in the 2018-19 school year, while costs grew about 12 percent. The estimated total cost of vouchers in the current school years is roughly $302 million.
  • Legislative Republicans have already said they oppose these provisions.

Requiring annual property tax bills to provide information about how much state aid school districts are losing because of private school vouchers, also called “voucher transparency.” (See previous post.)

  • Gov. Evers recently told Wisconsin Public Radio, “At some point in time as a state, we have to figure out whether we can afford two or three separate (funding) allocations of public schools. People in Wisconsin don’t know how much school districts are losing because of vouchers and how much is being deducted from their aid. They need to know that so that we can as a state have a good discussion about what’s involved with the voucher program.”
  • Legislative Republicans have already said they oppose such provisions.
  • Editor’s note:  In fairness, it should be observed that legislative Republicans DID support  and approve a similar “transparency” requirement in the 2015-17 state budget (2015 Wisconsin Act 55) on the grounds that property taxpayers deserved to know about the source of increases to their bills. Those provisions require property tax bills to indicate, in a section of the bill separate from the billing information, the total amount of tax levied that is the result of a successful referendum to exceed, on a nonpermanent basis, school district revenue limits.  Those same provisions also require  property tax bills to indicate the year in which the referendum authorization to exceed the revenue limit expires with a separate listing for each such authorization.

Continuing a freeze on in-state tuition at University of Wisconsin (UW) System schools that has been in place since 2013, coupled with providing the UW system an additional $150 million, and allowing Wisconsin residents who entered the country without legal permission to pay in-state tuition rates.

  • The governor’s plan would also set aside $50,000 to study the feasibility of creating a refinancing authority to allow Wisconsin students to refinance their college loans.
  • Legislative Republicans have already said they oppose provisions to let undocumented persons pay in-statute tuition.

Providing nearly $28 million for “Healthy Women, Healthy Babies” initiatives are aimed at improving women’s access to health exams and addressing racial disparities in maternal and child health and $43 million plan to expand access to dental care.

  • Legislative Republicans have already said they oppose provisions in the women’s’ health proposal that would reopen a flow of state money to Planned Parenthood.

Indefinitely delaying closing the state’s embattled youth prison, coupled with increasing the age for charging juveniles as adults from 17 to 18, beginning in 2021.

  • Under the governor’s plan, closure of the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls would be delayed until whenever new, regional facilities are developed to house the inmates. Evers’ plan also includes a roughly $200 million increase in state funding for building new regional youth prisons and expanding an existing facility in Madison.
  • According to the Evers’ administration, Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that allows 17-year-olds to be criminally charged and tried as adults.
  • Legislative Republicans have already said they oppose both proposals.

Expanding the state’s BadgerCare program in a way that will allow the state to receive additional federal Medicaid funding first made available by the federal Affordable Care Act.

  • According to studies by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) and others, the decision by the previous administration not to accept this funding has resulted in a cumulative net loss to the state of $1 billion or more in federal funding.  Expanding BadgerCare coverage from state residents who earn up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) to residents who earn up to 133 percent of the FPL could generate as much as $200 million in increased federal funding each year because it would by substantially increase the percentage of costs reimbursed by the federal government from about 58 percent to about 90 percent.
  • Legislative Republicans have already said they oppose the BadgerCare expansion and the acceptance of the federal Medicaid funding.

Legalizing medical marijuana.

  • Legislative Republicans have already said they oppose this proposal. 

Cutting state income taxes by 10 percent for people who earn up to $100,000 and families that earn up to $150,000.

  • Earlier this month, Gov. Evers vetoed a similar “middle-class” income tax cut adopted by the GOP-controlled Legislature claiming it was not paid for on an ongoing basis. Evers would pay for his tax cut proposal in part by scaling back Wisconsin’s Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit so that it only covers the first $300,000 of a person’s or business’ income, a move legislative Republicans have already said they oppose.

Increasing the state’s gas tax, a move that has divided legislative Republicans in the past, or other transportation-related fees.

  • Studies indicate Wisconsin’s roads and highways are demonstrably worse shape than those of our neighboring states. Gov. Evers’ nominee to fill the Department of Transportation Secretary position has estimated the state needs an additional $360 to $400 million per biennium just to maintain the current condition of the state highway system, not counting the additional funding needed to provide road aids to local governments or rebuild portions of the Interstate system within the state.

What, if anything, Gov. Evers may propose in the area of labor relations (such as attempting to rollback collective bargaining restrictions imposed by Act 10) is unclear at this point.

  • As a candidate, Evers argued that schools had suffered because teachers were “devalued” by Act 10 and pledged to restore “respect and professionalism towards all our hard-working educators.”  That will be something to watch as the governor unveils his budget proposal.

As this list indicates, many of the budget proposals the Democratic governor has unveiled in recent days are unlikely to make it through the Republican-controlled Legislature. Other budget proposals will likely be altered substantially from what the governor recommends. This could set the stage for a prolonged battle over the budget.

Although Republicans hold majorities in both houses of the Legislature they do not have enough votes to override a governor’s veto in either house without votes from Democrats so neither side is likely to get everything it wishes.  It would appear there are some areas of the budget where the Republican majorities will wish to make a statement and where they will rewrite or delete the governor’s language.  However, that may result in a veto that leaves those issues unaddressed in the final analysis.

This legislative session marks the first time in ten years that a single party has not controlled all the levers of the branches of state government that enact laws.

A big question for legislators of both parties to decide is whether they can find a way to pass a budget that can be enacted with Gov. Evers’ signature, likely meaning a budget that will be acceptable to Gov. Evers after he uses his partial veto to remove certain items.  If that goal cannot be accomplished, it is possible that Gov. Evers could veto the entire budget, setting everything back to zero and ensuring a lengthy stalemate.