Republicans plan to throw out Evers’ efforts to legalize marijuana and raise minimum wage

MADISON – The Republican leaders of the Legislature’s budget committee said Thursday they would throw out central parts of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ budget, including his plan to legalize marijuana, raise the minimum wage and overhaul the state’s juvenile correctional system. 

Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, sits on the Legislature's joint finance committee.

They also suggested they wouldn’t let the sales tax go up and expressed strong doubts about going along with his plans to expand state health care programs under Obamacare. Republicans threw out a similar healthcare proposal from Evers two years ago. 

“I would describe his budget as a liberal’s dream,” Sen. Howard Marklein of Spring Green said of Evers during a virtual forum hosted by WisPolitics. 

Marklein was joined at the event by Rep. Mark Born of Beaver Dam.

The two Republicans have long served on the Joint Finance Committee but are new to leading it as the committee’s co-chairmen. The roles make them two of the most important decision-makers in the Capitol. 

The finance committee will spend the next few months rewriting the $91 billion budget Evers released on Tuesday. Their version of the budget will then go to the Assembly and Senate, which will send it on to Evers. Evers can take out parts of the budget he doesn’t like using his veto powers. 

Sen. Howard Marklein reviews materials during a May 2019 meeting of the Joint Finance Committee.

While promising to reject many parts of his budget, they said they hadn’t decided what they would do with some aspects of it.

They didn’t say how much new money they would put toward schools, though the figure is expected to be significantly less than the $1.6 billion Evers has recommended because they don’t want to go along with the tax increases he has recommended.

The pair said they didn’t know whether their budget would have the state fund two-thirds of the cost of educating Wisconsin’s K-12 students — an often-stated and often-missed goal of Wisconsin officials over the years. Born called a decision on the matter premature.

Their uncertainty about whether to back two-thirds funding prompted criticism from Evers’ spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback. 

“That’s interesting since Assembly Republicans promised to get there in 2019 after it was recommended by a Republican-led, bipartisan commission,” she tweeted.

Born and Marklein said they didn’t know whether they would continue the long-running tuition freeze for in-state University of Wisconsin students that Evers backs.

Born said Republicans were split on whether to give the university system authority to borrow money, an idea Evers included in his budget. Marklein expressed skepticism toward the idea. 

Other proposals are sure to come out of the budget, the two said. For instance, Born said Evers’ plan to change how juvenile offenders are prosecuted and held should not be part of budget deliberations.

Evers wants to legalize recreational marijuana, an idea opposed by many Republicans. 

“I just believe it’s too big to be inserted in the state budget,” Marklein said.

Evers is recommending raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.60 an hour this year and $10.15 an hour in 2024. That idea will come out of the budget, Marklein said. 

“I’m always concerned when we talk about raising the minimum wage, who is hurt? And it tends to be people on the lowest end of the economic spectrum,” he said. “When wages at the low end get too high, companies automate and those jobs are gone then.”

Evers included a provision in his budget that would let counties and some municipalities raise the sales tax by half a percentage point if approved by voters. That would allow the sales tax to go up by as much as one point, to 6.5%, in areas where both county and municipal voters supported the idea. 

Marklein questioned the fairness of Evers’ plan.

“The governor’s proposal is great for the city of Madison, it’s great for Dane County,” he said. “When I look at a county like Lafayette County in my district, where they’ve got virtually no retail base, they’re not going to benefit,” Marklein said.

“My townships are not going to benefit from that proposal. So I’m very concerned that that policy decision would make the rich richer and our poor poorer and increase the disparity between our wealthier counties in this state and our poor counties.”

Born offered Evers’ a glimmer of hope of getting some of his proposals through the Republican-controlled Legislature, saying there were some areas where they could find common ground.

Born said he liked the direction the governor was headed with his proposal to invest $200 million in expanding broadband over the next two years, though he noted Republicans may modify it. 

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.