Steven Walters
The State of Politics

7 Reasons Evers Won’t Veto Entire Budget

Why the governor won’t use the nuclear option on Republican budget.

By - Jul 1st, 2019 10:37 am
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Tony Evers. Photo by Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Tony Evers. Photo by Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has the power to veto the entire 2019-21 budget passed by Republican legislators, but will he? Here are 7 reasons he won’t, and will instead will rework it with line-item vetoes:

1. Transportation spending too close: The difference in spending is 0.2 percent between what Evers proposed ($6.62 billion) and what Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee approved ($6.64 billion), and such a tiny difference isn’t worth vetoing the entire budget. Both sides spend 8 percent more on transportation than the current budget but get to that increase in different ways.

Evers wanted what would have been a 9.6-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax and a 27 percent increase in heavy truck registration fees. Instead, Republicans more than doubled the $69.50 title fee, raised the $75 annual car/light truck registration fee by $10, made sure electric car owners pay $75 more and gave the Transportation Fund $90 million from the general-fund account.

Republicans also would borrow an additional $326 million – less than the borrowing recommended by the governor.

2. Hard to Veto Income Tax Cuts: The budgets of both Evers and Republican cut income taxes. The GOP budget included a $450-million income tax cut, with part of it targeted to taxpayers in the lowest tax brackets. Evers also wanted to raise taxes on the wealthiest residents by more than $1 billion by limiting tax breaks given capital gains investors and manufacturers. Republicans refused to those taxes.

But Evers has already vetoed one GOP income tax cut, saying it should be part of the budget. Does he want to be the governor who vetoes an entire budget with a second income-tax cut?

3. Health care spending hard to turn down: Republicans refused to apply for federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage to about 82,000 more low- and middle-income residents, which was a top Evers priority. But Republicans spent more on some other critical health care programs – pay for personal-care aides, nursing homes and hospitals, for example – than Evers had recommended and which he probably won’t want to veto.

4. School-aid payments could be delayed: Both sides want to spend significantly more on school aids, but differ on spending levels.

Republicans budgeted $650 million more for the state Department of Public Instruction, including $100 million more for special education programs.

That’s less than half of the $1.6-billion increase sought by Evers. He wanted a $600-million increase just for special education. But Evers is a former superintendent of public instruction. He knows that a veto of the entire GOP budget would mean no one knows when – August? September? October? – both sides will agree on the final school-aid number.

That means no school district could add classroom teachers, and could only boost spending on programs, in the middle of an academic year – a nightmare scenario for the state’s former top educator.

5. UW System Funding Also Too Close: There is less than 0.5 percent difference between what both sides want to give the UW System in state aid, and both want to freeze resident undergraduate tuition for two more years. Republicans budgeted $2.24 billion for the UW System; Evers wanted $2.35 billion. The system gets $2.23 billion in the current budget.

Republicans also voted to let the UW System borrow more than $1 billion to rebuild, repair and maintain buildings. That’s close to the bonding request of the Board of Regents, who oversee the system. When he was superintendent of public instruction, Evers was member of the Board of Regents.

6. Cabinet Appointments Could Be Delayed Further: No Evers cabinet secretary has been confirmed by the state Senate. They surely won’t be if the governor vetoes the budget of Republicans, who control the Senate by a 19-14.

7. Legislature’s Second Budget Could Be Worse. Nobody knows what happens if Evers makes history by pushing the nuclear budget-veto button. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said a second Assembly budget would spend much less than the vetoed one, and the Assembly may not even return to the Capitol until October to consider it. Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald also said the Senate may not act on a second budget until October and said it would be the worst thing “in the world,” if the governor shelved the Legislature’s budget.

Evers can’t simply issue an executive order to increase spending on his top priorities – health care, highways and K-12 schools. This requires legislation and if he scraps the Legislature’s budget, he must wait for legislators to send him a new one.

While Evers waits for that second budget, spending continues at current levels – levels that Evers says are inadequate. In February, he recommended an 8 percent increase in state spending. The GOP budget doesn’t get him all the way there, but gets him much more than nothing. And he still has the option of looking for ways to improve this budget with strategic partial vetoes.

So, bet on the first-term governor not vetoing the entire budget.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com.

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