By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers was cool to the idea of cutting taxes Tuesday as Republican leaders have floated, saying instead he wants the GOP-controlled Legislature to focus on passing gun control measures, criminal justice reform, expanding Medicaid and legalizing medical marijuana.
Evers, speaking at an event organized by WisPolitics.com, laid out his priorities for the fall legislative session that will begin in October. Passing medical marijuana was one of the few ideas Evers discussed that has bipartisan support, but even that has an uphill battle in the face of opposition from Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers last week introduced a medical marijuana bill. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he was open to the idea, whereas Fitzgerald has long been opposed. The bill would have to pass both the Senate and Assembly and be signed by Evers before becoming law.
Evers said he hoped to get Vos and the Assembly involved in passing the bill and then try to convince Fitzgerald it’s the “right thing to do.”
Fitzgerald, who last week announced he is running for Congress, has suggested the possibility of cutting taxes if state revenues continue to come in above projections. But Evers was cool to that idea, saying he didn’t think it was wise to use a one-time influx of money to cut permanently cut taxes.
“I think it’s questionable rhetoric,” Evers said. “My guess is it has something to do with election prospects for him.”
Evers said he was hopeful Republicans would come around on a pair of gun safety bills he and Democrats are pushing. One would institute universal background checks and the other would put in place a “red flag” law to allow judges to take firearms away from people determined to be a risk.
Given polls showing high public support for such ideas, Evers said it would be “political suicide” to reject them.
“We’re going to press the issue,” he said. Evers said he would call a special session of the Legislature if necessary, but even that wouldn’t force Republicans to take up the bills.
Evers also downplayed comments he made last week, in reaction to a reporter’s question, that he was open to buying back assault weapons from people who legally own them, as Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke supports. Evers said that no one would be making such a proposal. Republicans said the comment last week by Evers showed that his true agenda was to take guns away from people who legally own them.
“I consider any piece of legislation that comes across,” Evers said. “Do I sign them all? Absolutely not.”
Evers said he also wanted to keep the pressure on Republicans to support Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin. Evers and Democrats have pushed it for years, but Republicans have refused to go along.