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Evers promises budget will help Wisconsin bounce back

Marijuana, Medicaid expansion, and major investments highlight budget
Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 2:21 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2021 at 8:57 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Gov. Tony Evers used his biennial budget address Tuesday night to promise Wisconsinites that things will not go back to the way they were before the pandemic.

He explained a plan that his office argues will make unprecedented investments and still cut taxes.

“We aren’t going to follow the map back to where we started when this pandemic began,” he said. “I’ve got a blueprint that will (support Wisconsinites who need help to recover) and make sure we bounce back and better than before.”

The governor’s office has been releasing details of what Gov. Evers plans to propose in his 2021-23 plan for more than a week now. Some of those ideas include legalizing marijuana for recreational use, a step beyond his failed effort two years to legalize it for medicinal purposes.

Another proposal he intends to revisit in his budget is the call for Medicaid expansion. That initiative will be part of a $150 million health care push that also included bolstering student mental health support, addressing the opioid crisis and increasing telehealth accessibility.

He also wants to set aside $200 million to aide small businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic. On top of that, he wants to use $100 million to seed a venture capital program that the administration claims will “jumpstart innovation and startups in Wisconsin.”

Affordable childcare

Gov. Evers announced previously that his budget would include $140 million to improve access to quality early education and childcare.

The governor noted that he has bipartisan support for a commitment to two-thirds funding for schools. While it did not pass on the special session in the Legislature last year, the governor said now is the time.

“Well, here’s the bottom line: if members of the Legislature are going to make promises on this, then they sure ought to keep them,” he said. “Let’s stop talking about it and just get it done.”

Evers included a more than $709 million investment in special education aid and $20 million into rural schools. The governor said this funding will enhance things like mental health services, bus systems and technologies in these rural districts.

The governor added in that we can’t stop there and must include higher education into the budget. The governor’s plan calls for a $36 million investment over the next two years to build on state technical schools, plus they are going to keep the current tuition freeze at UW System schools.

Strain on the justice system

Gov. Evers proposed that the juvenile justice system undergo training to engage children. His plan involves $9 million for a pilot program to increase services to children who are at moderate to high-risk. This practice would invest in rehabilitation and treatment.

The governor also added that they will propose closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake schools, ran by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, to allow children to have behavioral support and treatment faster.

Addressing the climate crisis

The Badger Bounceback budget proposes $30 million to prevent flooding and reduce damage because of it. The governor noted that the state is ready to be “good partners” to farmers in order to build a more sustainable future.

Gov. Evers also noted that they plan to invest $1 million into the Fast Forward program, which trains people for green jobs and encourages people to pursue a field in clean energy production or conservation.

Economic development not previewed

While many proposals were previewed, one that was not was the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s announcement detailing the Evers Administration’s “vision for economic development,” which the governor’s office expects will come in the next few days.

“Our Badger Bounceback agenda makes a larger state investment into the WEDC than the last three budgets combined,” he will note.

While Evers plans to argue his budget would allow the state to reduce its taxes, it will include a provision that will let counties and cities with more than 30,000 people raise their sales taxes.

Evers concluded with a hopeful message, saying he believes his Administration will be able to work with the Republicans who dominate the legislature to reach a bipartisan deal.

“Change is possible. The future we want to build is possible. Because I know you will hold us to account and demand it.”

GOP Reaction

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called the governor’s proposal the “Badger Bounce Backwards” Plan in a press conference with other Republican leaders immediately following the budget address.

State Sen. Howard Marklein said the state’s economy was in fairly good shape so the policies should not change. “It took us ten years to get us to the financial position that we’re in today. I’m just fearful that if we follow the path of Governor Evers’, we’re going to blow it in one year,” he said.

Other lawmakers attacked the topics of the governor’s agenda, saying it was a “liberal wishlist,” one that was full of “platitudes.”

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