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Budget update: Evers not talking to GOP, first votes as soon as next week

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday he has not been in talks with Republican leaders in charge of the legislature while GOP leaders on the committee that writes the budget said they could start taking votes on removing items from Evers' budget as soon as next week.

Co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), said in an interview Thursday the process of re-writing the governor's proposed two-year, $90 billion budget will start with removing items Republicans most strongly oppose.

"As we usually do, we're kind of setting the standard of taking all the policy out of the budget, that'll be one of our first votes," Born said.

Born said the committee's plan was to then take up the budgets of smaller agencies before moving onto the state's largest ones in June.

Evers and the Democratic members of the Joint Finance Committee made a final push in support of the executive budget Thursday morning in Milwaukee.

They touted large increases in public education spending and a renewed push to accept federal Medicaid expansion money. Evers said he has not had any recent conversations with the state's top Republicans, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg).

"I will absolutely meet with them if they have any openness to any of these ideas," Evers said. "They haven't so I decided it's more important for me to listen to the people of Wisconsin."

The Evers budget funds the significant spending increase by collecting $1 billion in additional taxes. Most of that new money would come from capping the manufacturing tax credit at $300,000; Born said he considered it a tax increase and a non-starter.

"If the question is specifically 'is there room to negotiate on tax increases, the answer to that would be 'no,'" Born said. "There's a lot of stuff in this budget that are areas of agreement, things we can work on, agree with, and negotiate if that's what people want to do in the governor's office but tax increases is absolutely not one of them."

Two areas of bipartisan agreement that have come up thus far in the budget process are support for increased spending on rural broadband expansion and increased funding for mental health programs in schools.

However, there have been splits in that regard too. Republicans remain miffed Evers vetoed their bill to commit $500 million of the incoming American Rescue Plan money toward broadband.

Evers has proposed putting $200 million of the ARPA money toward broadband and an additional $200 million from the state budget toward expanding access to high-speed internet.

Evers said Thursday he expects to know the U.S. Treasury's guidelines for how the state can spend all of the $3.2 billion in ARPA money "likely next week or the week after."

"As soon as we can digest those guidelines, and I think that'll happen relatively quickly, and we have money in the bank here - the money is transferred from the federal government to Wisconsin - we'll get dollars out the door," Evers said.

Born said knowing how Evers distributes the full ARPA allotment will dictate how the GOP carves up Evers' proposed spending, as will the tax revenue estimates, which have been delayed by the federal and state tax deadline extensions.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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