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GOP plans to kill Medicaid expansion, pot legalization

By SCOTT BAUER and TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans plan to kill some of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ signature proposals in the first vote taken this year by the state’s budget-writing committee, proposals including accepting federal money to offer more Medicaid, legalizing medical marijuana and capping enrollment in private voucher schools.

The co-chairs of the committee, Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling, said in a memo on Wednesday they will fundamentally reshape the state’s $83 billion budget by removing more than 70 policy proposals Evers proposed with one vote on May 9. Republicans will then work to build the budget from the ground up, starting with spending as it is currently set under the spending plan passed under former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican.

Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff had no immediate comment.

Darling and Nygren said in a joint statement they expected Evers would pursue many of the ideas in separate legislation. But those are nearly certain to fail in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“The bottom line is his budget is unsustainable, irresponsible and jeopardizes the progress we’ve made in the last eight years,” Darling and Nygren said in a statement explaining their plans.

The decision is not a surprise. Republican leaders have been consistently opposed to nearly all of the Evers proposals the committee plans to remove next week.

The proposals to be removed include the central piece of Evers’ budget: Having the state accept federal dollars allowed under the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid to cover an additional 82,000 poor people. That would also free up an additional $1.6 billion to spend on other health care priorities.

Rep. Chris Taylor, a Democrat on the budget committee, said refusing to accept the federal dollars will blow a massive hole in the budget because the spending plan is built on receiving that money.

“It’s the centerpiece of the budget,” Taylor said.

Republicans also plan to strip out proposals to legalize marijuana for medical use, legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana and repeal the state’s minimum mark-up on gasoline, which Evers counted on to counterbalance a proposed gas-tax increase.

Republicans also want to erase provisions that would make driver’s licenses available to immigrants who are here illegally, grant in-state tuition rates to immigrants here illegally and set up automatic voter registration.

Also out is a proposed cap on voucher-school enrollment starting in 2021, a plan to move 17-year-old defendants from adult court to juvenile court, where the priority will be rehabilitation rather than punishment, and a proposal to borrow as much as $40 million to help cover the cost of replacing lead pipes. Republicans have said they’re concerned most of the money would be spent to replace lead pipes in Milwaukee, leaving out smaller municipalities.

Other proposals destined for the chopping block include:

  • Restricting a tax credit now provided to manufacturers, a change that would save the state an estimated $516.6 million but that Republicans decry as a tax increase on job creators.
  • Increasing the minimum wage.
  • Repealing the so-called right-to-work law that was passed under Walker.
  • Ending a tax deduction for private-school tuition.
  • Closing the so-called “dark stores loophole” that allows big box retailers to save millions in property taxes by assessing the value of their active stores as if they were vacant.
  • Restoring powers Republicans stripped from Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul in a lame-duck session in December. The GOP prohibited Evers from withdrawing the state from lawsuits and forced Kaul to get legislative approval before settling lawsuits and required him to deposit settlement awards in the state general fund rather than in state Department of Justice accounts. The session has led to several legal challenges, two of which are before the state Supreme Court.

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