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Evers facing pressure to sign Wisconsin budget

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JUNE 19: Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers speaks to the crowd during the 48th Annual Juneteenth Day Festival on June 19, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images for VIBE)

MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers faced pressure Monday to sign the state budget as passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, even though it doesn’t include many of his priorities and GOP lawmakers made it difficult for him to reshape it with partial vetoes.

Republicans have been calling on Evers to sign the nearly $82 billion budget, saying it represents the best compromise possible. And on Monday, a group representing long-term care facilities in Wisconsin also urged the governor to sign it.

Some liberals, meanwhile, advocated for Evers to veto the entire two-year spending plan — an unprecedented move since Wisconsin moved to two-year budgets. Evers has said he would consider it.

LeadingAge Wisconsin came out Monday in favor of Evers signing the plan. The group represents more than 200 nursing homes, facilities for the developmentally disabled, independent and assisted living facilities, and community service agencies. It cited nearly $234 million more for long-term care in the two-year budget as a reason for Evers to sign the budget into law.

“This significant two-year investment will help tremendously in addressing historically inadequate Medicaid rates that have contributed to nursing facility closures and challenges in recruiting and retaining high quality caregivers,” said John Sauer, head of LeadingAge Wisconsin in a statement.

The increased funding in the budget for health care — about $588 million — demonstrates the dilemma Evers faces. Spending more on health care was one of his priorities, but Republicans did it without expanding Medicaid and accessing $1.6 billion in federal funding as Evers wanted.

Evers campaigned on expanding Medicaid and many Democrats believe it helped push him to victory over Republican Scott Walker, a longtime opponent of expansion.

The budget passed by Republicans differs in many other significant ways from what Evers proposed.

Funding would increase for K-12 schools and the University of Wisconsin, but not as much as Evers wanted. Republicans included a $450 million middle class income tax cut, smaller than Evers’ proposal and not funded by raising taxes on manufacturers as he suggested. And instead of raising gas taxes to pay for roads, Republicans increased vehicle licensing and registration fees.

The budget increases spending by nearly 6%, which is less than any budget passed under Walker and less than the more than 8% Evers proposed. However, the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum on Monday noted that even under the budget as passed, the state’s main account — known as the general fund — would be left with the lowest balance since 2011.

That smaller financial cushion will make the next state budget harder to balance and weaken the state’s position to deal with the next recession, the group said.

Evers has until Friday to take action on the budget. He has not yet said whether he will sign it with partial vetoes, or veto the entire spending plan. His spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff had no immediate comment on Monday.

Several budget provisions added by Republicans may be ripe for a veto. That includes a last-minute addition used to secure the vote of Republican Sen. Chris Kapenga that would allow electric-car manufacturer Tesla to sell directly to customers in Wisconsin, rather than going through a dealer.

Republicans also included $5 million to begin the replacement of the Green Bay Correctional Institution, funding Evers did not include. Town officials have also spoken out against a GOP provision that limits the ability of local governments to oversee quarries.

Evers can make changes with his expansive veto powers that allow him to strike out individual words and numbers, but Republicans tried to limit his ability to do that. For example, they replaced the words “shall not” with “cannot” so Evers couldn’t just veto “not” to make the budget do the opposite of what Republicans intended.

The previous state budget, signed by Walker, ended on Sunday but remains in effect until a new one is signed into law. However, during that time no spending increases approved under the pending budget would take effect.

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