• A two-year spending plan for Wisconsin was signed by Gov. Tony Evers on July 5, 2023, concluding weeks of debate between Republicans and the Governor.
  • In a move that upset Republicans, Evers utilized his partial veto powers to increase school funding until 2425.
  • Additionally, he significantly reduced the Republican income tax cut from $3.5 billion to $175 million.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers approved a two-year spending plan on Wednesday after eliminating a Republican tax cut and using his broad veto powers to secure increased school funding for centuries to come.

Both actions taken by Evers angered Republicans, with some accusing the Democratic governor of reneging on previous agreements.

Evers demonstrated creativity in his use of the partial veto within this budget, which marks the third passed by a Republican Legislature that he has signed.

He altered the GOP income tax cut, reducing it from $3.5 billion to $175 million, and completely eliminating lower rates for the two highest income brackets. Additionally, Evers employed his partial veto power to raise the amount of revenue K-12 public schools can generate per student by $325 annually until 2425.

Evers made changes to the language, transforming the initial increase set for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years and extending the end date to 2425.

As a former state education secretary and teacher, Evers had proposed allowing revenue limits to increase in accordance with inflation. According to Evers, unless future Legislatures and governors undo his veto, schools will possess “predictable long-term spending authority.”

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“There are many victories here,” Evers stated about the budget during the signing ceremony, surrounded by Democratic lawmakers, local leaders, members of his Cabinet, and others.

Wisconsin governors, both Republican and Democratic, have frequently utilized the broad partial veto power to reshape the state budget. It represents a strategic maneuver between the governor and Legislature, as lawmakers strive to draft bills that are largely immune to creative vetoes.

In 2000, voters prohibited the use of the “Vanna White” veto, which allowed governors to strike individual letters within words to create new meaning. Eight years later, the constitution was amended once again to outlaw the “Frankenstein veto,” wherein the governor dismissed words from two or more sentences to create a new sentence.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court declared three of Evers’ partial vetoes in 2020 as excessively broad, but the justices failed to reach consensus on guidelines for future vetoes. The Court’s majority will shift from conservative to liberal in August.

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Republicans strongly criticized the latest vetoes.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos expressed concern that allowing the school revenue limit to increase indefinitely would result in “enormous property tax increases” if state aid falls short of meeting per-pupil costs. He also argued that scaling back the tax cut put Wisconsin at an economic disadvantage compared to neighboring states with lower rates.

“Legislative Republicans worked tirelessly over the last few months to oppose Governor Evers’ liberal tax and spending agenda,” Vos stated. “Unfortunately, due to his powerful veto authority, some of it was reinstated today.”

Vos did not indicate whether Republicans would attempt veto overrides, but such an effort is likely to fail since Democratic votes in the Assembly would be required to achieve the two-thirds majority mandated by state law.

Republicans had proposed utilizing nearly half of the state’s projected $7 billion budget surplus to implement income tax cuts across the board and reduce the number of tax brackets from four to three.

Evers retained all four brackets. The remaining $175 million in tax cuts over the next two years will be directed towards the lowest two tax rates, benefiting households earning less than $36,840 per year or individuals below the $27,630 income threshold. Wealthier taxpayers will also enjoy tax cuts, but they will continue to pay higher rates on income surpassing those limits.

Evers was unable to reverse the $32 million cut to the University of Wisconsin, which was planned to fund diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and staff, according to Republicans. However, the budget Evers signed permits the university to obtain the funding later if it can demonstrate that it will be allocated towards workforce development rather than DEI.

Previously, Evers had threatened to veto the entire budget due to the UW cut. On Wednesday, he used his partial veto to save 188 DEI positions at the university that were slated for elimination under the Republican plan.

Another veto by Evers removed a provision that would have banned Medicaid payments for gender-affirming care. The governor accused Republicans of promoting “hateful, discriminatory, and anti-LGBTQ policies and rhetoric” with this proposal.

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Evers disregarded a plea 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, as they argued that it would exacerbate racial and economic inequality.

Evers stated that vetoing the entire budget would have left schools in a difficult situation and would have resulted in rejecting $125 million in funding to combat water pollution caused by persistent chemicals known as PFAS. Additionally, it would mean rejecting $525 million for affordable housing and pay raises for state workers.

No governor has vetoed the budget in its entirety since 1930.

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

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