Recapping the 2023 Wisconsin budget address by Evers

Gov. Tony Evers released his 2023-25 state budget plan, which includes more funding for K-12 schools and local governments, a middle-class tax cut, and a proposed paid family leave program.

By Zac Schultz, Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

February 17, 2023

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Gov. Tony Evers has proposed the largest budget in state history with historic investments in public schools and local government.

“We carry the weight of posterity. While we must find ways to save when we can, we have a duty to invest in needs that have been long neglected,” Evers said in a Feb. 15, 2023 address to the Wisconsin Legislature.

Wisconsin’s $7 billion budget surplus is fueled in part by the fact Republicans in the Legislature and Gov. Evers could not agree on how to spend the surplus in 2021. Now, Evers said the state needs to make up for lost time and he’s proposing an additional $2.6 billion investment in K-12 education over the next two years.

“Tonight, I’m calling on the Legislature to join me in doing what’s best for our kids by approving the largest increase in K-12 schools and education in our state’s history,” said Evers.

That includes $1 billion in additional aid to schools, including revenue boosts of $350 per pupil in the first year of the budget and an additional $650 in year two. Historically the state has struggled to pay for two-thirds of public school costs as promised, but this budget would put state funding eight points above that. Evers would also invest an extra $1 billion into special education funding and $270 million for student mental health.

“Let’s make sure every kid in Wisconsin has access to school-based mental health services,” said Evers.

The budget would include a permanent boost to funding for local governments using an idea Republicans have complained Evers took from them.

“Last month, I pledged my support for a budget provision to send 20% of the state sales tax revenue back to our local communities for shared revenue, and I’m excited to share that our budget includes that proposal,” the governor said. “I don’t care where it came from — providing more than half a billion dollars per year in resources to invest in key priorities like public safety. We have to get this done folks.”

A large part of the budget conversation dating back to the fall 2022 election was about tax cuts.

“I’m delivering on my promise for a 10% middle-class tax cut and providing $1.2 billion in tax relief for working families,” Evers said.

Republicans have floated the idea of moving to a flat tax, which would primarily benefit wealthy taxpayers.

“Under my plan, if you’re a single filer making less than $100,000 or a married joint filer making less than $150,000, the cornerstone of my tax plan will cut your taxes by 10%,” said Evers. “That’s real sustainable relief that will keep income taxes low now and into the future without causing devastating cuts to priorities like public schools and public safety.”

The biggest new proposal unveiled on Feb. 17 was Evers’ plan to create a paid family leave program.

“Tonight I’m announcing that we’re going to create a statewide program that will provide most private sector workers with Wisconsin paid family and medical leave for 12 weeks, and we’re going to do it by investing more than $240 million in state funds to get that program started,” said the governor.

Evers says similar to the state’s unemployment plan, paid family leave would eventually be funded by fees paid by workers and businesses.

The budget address is the governor’s last chance to direct the debate. It subsequently goes to the Legislature, where Republicans have already promised to ignore the entire proposal. But Evers ended his speech with one last plea for Republicans to consider his ideas.

“Let’s dispose of the notion that priorities in this budget are somehow extreme or far-fetched,” said Evers. “I promise you this — in this budget, there’s more that unites us than divides us. These aren’t Republican or Democrat priorities — they’re Wisconsin priorities, areas where we should be able to find common ground.”

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