Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks during the annual State of the State address Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Madison, Wis. The state budget plan Evers unveils Wednesday, Feb. 15, will include tax cuts for the middle class, a plan to keep the Milwaukee Brewers in their stadium until at least 2043, higher spending for public schools and a new way to fund local governments.(Drake White-Bergey / Wisconsin Watch)
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Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers made a plea for bipartisanship with the unveiling of a nearly $104 billion state budget Wednesday that includes a new paid family leave program for most public and private-sector workers, tax cuts for the middle class, a plan to keep the Milwaukee Brewers in their stadium until at least 2043 and higher spending for public schools.

“Let’s not allow our work together to be hindered by partisanship,” Evers said in his speech to the GOP-controlled Legislature. “Let’s dispose of the notion that the priorities in this budget are somehow extreme or far-fetched. I promise you this: In this budget, there’s more that unites us than divides us.”

Despite the call for bipartisanship, Republican leaders promised to ditch Evers’ plan and start from scratch, just as they did with his two previous budgets. That means Evers’ ideas like legalizing marijuana, requiring background checks for gun purchases, accepting federal Medicaid expansion, spending $2.6 billion more on K-12 schools and automatic voter registration will almost certainly be jettisoned.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the proposal would cause property taxes to rise and was “absolutely devoid of reality.” And Republican Sen. Howard Marklein, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee, called it a “liberal wish list.”

Evers said that issues that should have bipartisan support include funding schools, recruiting and retaining workers, improving access to health care, cutting taxes, fighting pollution, reducing child care costs, improving mental health, expanding broadband internet access and fixing roads and bridges.

“These aren’t Republican or Democratic priorities — they’re Wisconsin priorities, areas where we should be able to find common ground,” he said.

Vos said that while Evers and Republicans may agree on what issues face the state, they differ on the solutions.

Evers announced a new initiative to spend $240 million to launch a new statewide program to provide public and most private-sector workers with 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and expand what it can be used for. Reasons to take the leave include care for a new child; a serious health condition; military deployment; unforeseen closure of a child care facility; and the aftermath of domestic violence or sexual assault.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said the state’s current program is competitive and that Evers’ plan was “very doubtful at this point,” but he didn’t summarily reject what the governor called for.

There are some signs of agreement.

Both sides want to tap the state’s record-high projected budget surplus of around $7 billion to cut taxes. But they are farther apart on how much should be spent and how.

Republicans favor implementing a flat income tax, which Evers opposes. He wants tax cuts to target the middle class. Vos has suggested a compromise can be reached, while LeMahieu said Wednesday that Evers’ cuts don’t go far enough.

Evers signed a budget two years ago that included a $2 billion income tax cut approved by the Republican Legislature. Vos has said he wants to cut taxes by more than $3.4 billion this time, while the Evers tax cut plan comes to about a third of that at $1.2 billion.

Evers’ budget cuts taxes by about $1.5 billion and raises nearly as much, mostly through reducing a tax credit for manufacturers and by increasing taxes on some capital gains.

Evers got behind an idea discussed by Republicans to use about 20% of the state’s sales tax revenue to fund local governments. A broad coalition that includes counties, cities, towns, villages, law enforcement agencies and first responders are working to get more funding, a movement that appears to have bipartisan support.

Republicans were still working on their plan, which will have some similarities with what Evers outlined, budget committee co-chair Rep. Mark Born said.

Evers surprised Republicans with a plan announced this week to spend $290 million on repairs to American Family Field under a deal with the Brewers that would include them extending their lease by 13 years through 2043.

Republicans blanched at not being consulted ahead of time but also pledged to work with Democrats to keep the Brewers in Milwaukee.

Evers also called for about a 15% spending increase for public schools, which amounts to $2.6 billion more in funding over the next two years. Evers last year had proposed spending $2 billion more, a plan that Vos at the time called a “feeble ploy” to win votes. Republicans favor spending more to expand the state’s private school choice program.

The budget calls for giving state employees a 5% wage increase in 2023 and a 3% increase in 2024.

Republicans will work over the next four months to rewrite and pass the two-year state budget. It will then go to Evers, who has the power to make changes with his line-item veto. The new budget takes effect in July and runs through June 30, 2025.

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Scott Bauer / Associated PressCorrespondent at Associated Press

Scott Bauer is the head of the AP bureau in Madison, covering state government and politics.

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Harm Venhuizen / Associated PressReport for America Corps Member

Harm Venhuizen is a state government reporter with The Associated Press in Madison, Wisconsin, primarily covering elections and voting rights. Prior to this, Venhuizen interned at Military Times. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he served as editor-in-chief of Chimes, the student paper. During his time at Chimes, he earned recognition for his investigative coverage of controversial personnel decisions, sexual assault and university employment policies against same-sex marriage. Venhuizen grew up on a small farm in rural Wisconsin, and spent a summer working as a wildfire firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service.