Gov. Tony Evers' two-year state budget proposal was released late in February. As expected, the proposal includes many of the things the governor campaigned on: increased funding for education, tax cuts for middle and low-income earners, as well as more funds for road repairs. There have been many objections from the Republican-led Legislature, and it remains unclear how much of Evers' budget will be passed.
As it does every year, the Wisconsin Policy Forum analyzed this budget proposal and published their report on it this week. Rob Henken is the president of the forum and he says in many ways, the budget reflects the priorities of the Evers administration.
A notable part of Evers' budget is that while the tax burden for some groups will be lighter, there are areas of increased spending in the bill as well. Henken explains that most of the increases in spending are being funded by phasing out certain tax cuts and credits for higher income brackets and larger manufacturers.
By phasing those out, Henken says there will be approximately $500 million in additional revenue for the state to use. In recent months, both Republicans and Democrats have proposed dipping into Wisconsin’s funding reserves. But Henken says it might not be the right time.
"Here in this budget, we are still forecasting relatively healthy revenue growth. And so typically — at times when your economy is going well, when your revenue growth is healthy — that's a time maybe to build reserves as opposed to drawing down reserves," he explains.
However, the governor is using a big portion of that increase to fund a number of programs that he's talked about since his campaign began.
"As the former Department of Public Instruction superintendent, clearly K-12 education is a passion. But when we look at where all of this increased spending is, it's really flowing into a really small group of big programs," he says.
Those programs are public instruction, health services like Medicaid, local governments' shared revenue programs, and an increase in the corrections budget.
Henken says that while both Republicans and Democrats can get behind increased funding for public education, there is still a long way to go before a budget is passed.
"There are going to be very detailed discussions on virtually every area of this budget, the question is whether we're going to see gridlock or compromise, and where we'll end up in the end," he says.