In a message to lawmakers, Evers said he considered taking the unprecedented step but decided against it because it “would have been more of the same divisiveness and petty, political theatrics that the people of Wisconsin have had to put up with for far too long.”
Instead, Evers took a more moderate approach and used his broad veto powers to increase funding for K-12 schools by $65 million. He also eliminated a provision benefiting electric car manufacturer Tesla that was a late addition to the budget and scrapped funding to start building a new adult prison to replace one in Green Bay.
Republicans had urged Evers to sign the $82 billion budget, which they cast as a compromise. No Democratic lawmakers voted for the budget, calling it a missed opportunity. Republicans don’t have the votes to override any of Evers’ vetoes.
Republicans stripped his proposals to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, legalize medical marijuana and increase the gas tax as part of a long-term plan to pay for roads.
Evers said the budget he was signing was “insufficient” in many ways.
“This is, in large part, due to the unfortunate lack of interest by some Republicans in the Legislature to work together and engage in constructive, bipartisan dialogue, and instead devoting far too much time to huffing and puffing,” Evers wrote.
Evers vowed to keep up the fight for Medicaid expansion, saying he will make it a campaign issue against Republican lawmakers in 2020.
“We will be talking about Medicaid expansion until we get Medicaid expansion,” he said.
He acknowledged some successes in the budget, including a 10% middle class tax cut, more than $465 million in new funding for roads, efforts to combat water pollution and more funding for health care programs. Evers said his partial vetoes more closely align the budget with what he originally proposed.
Wisconsin’s governor has among the most expansive veto powers in the country, allowing him to strike out words within sentences to create new meanings, eliminate entire sections of the budget and individual digits in dollar amounts appropriated.
Evers’ predecessor, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, issued an average of 77 partial vetoes in each of the four budgets he signed into law even when they were passed by a GOP-controlled Legislature.
Republicans tried to tighten language in this budget to limit Evers’ ability to make dramatic changes. Evers said he didn’t feel like they blocked him from doing what he wanted and he “used every possible creative way to veto this budget” to make it closer to what he originally proposed.
The most significant veto from Evers, the former state superintendent of schools, came in K-12 funding. He increased the per-pupil aid amount to $742 in each of the next two years, up from the $679 and $704 the Legislature had in the budget. That will result in an $87 million increase for schools above the roughly $500 million more in the budget as passed.
Evers also eliminated a late addition to the budget that would have allowed Tesla to sell its vehicles directly to customers rather than through independent dealers. That was added to help secure the support of Republican state Sen. Chris Kapenga , a key vote in the Senate which narrowly passed the budget last week 17-16.
Kapenga did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Evers also vetoed a provision that would have forbidden security costs for Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes to exceed those of his GOP predecessor, Rebecca Kleefisch. Republicans have been critical of the level of security Barnes has had since taking office.
Barnes, the first African American lieutenant governor in Wisconsin history, had nine times more hours of security protection during his first two months in office than Kleefisch had all of last year. There has been no stated security threat for the extra coverage.
The current budget year began on Monday and the new spending plan Evers signed goes into effect immediately.
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