By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers called on the Republican-controlled Legislature Tuesday to bolster funding for K-12 and higher education and reform both the state’s criminal justice systems, while delivering a state budget with $1 billion in taxes increases and liberal policy priorities that are almost certainly dead on arrival.
Evers pitched his $91 billion two-year state budget to the Legislature as a “Badger Bounceback” agenda as the coronavirus pandemic enters its second year.
“I believe we can pass a budget with bipartisan support,” Evers said in the pre-recorded speech that played as lawmakers watched from the Assembly chamber. He urged Republicans not to be focused on settling scores “no one but you is keeping” and instead work together.
“I believe we can pass a budget that will make sure our state can bounce back and better than it was before this pandemic hit,” Evers said. “I believe we can pass a budget that will finally realize the future we’ve dreamed. I know that Legislature and I can get this done.”
His criminal justice overhauls are designed to result in fewer juveniles and adults being sent to prison by largely expanding and changing parameters dictating how people are sentenced and released from confinement. His proposal also calls for treating 17-year-olds as juveniles, rather than adults as they are now.
Evers faulted a previous juvenile justice overhaul package with focusing too much on closing the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison north of Wausau, rather than taking a larger look at reforming the system. His latest plan would still close the current facility and replace it with smaller, regional prisons. Counties, rather than the state Department of Corrections, would have responsibility for juvenile offenders.
The Evers budget is a starting point for Republicans who will now rewrite the plan over the next several months before passing its own version later this summer.
This is the second budget that Evers, a Democrat, has delivered to a Republican-controlled Legislature. Two years ago nearly all of Evers’ proposed policy changes were removed before the Legislature passed a budget plan with nearly unanimous opposition from Democrats. Evers signed it anyway, after making numerous vetoes.
The two-year spending plan would increase state spending by 7.3% the first year, which begins in July, and 2% the second.