MADISON - In signing the state's two-year spending plan Wednesday, Gov. Tony Evers used his partial veto authority to ensure rising public school funding for four centuries, remove proposed tax cuts for top earners, and retain University of Wisconsin System diversity positions.
His ability to issue partial vetoes, or "line item" vetoes, allows him to remove words, numbers and sentences from the budget. Evers' veto powers are among the most expansive among governors nationwide.
His broad changes contrast with the last biennial budget he signed, which included changes to about 50 minor areas and left intact Republicans' tax cut plan.
Evers issued 51 partial vetoes in total. The Democratic governor had promised to issue "as many partial vetoes as we can muster" to the budget, which was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature last week.
Evers had previously threatened to veto the entire budget, including over a $32 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System targeting diversity programming and tax cuts for the state's wealthiest residents. That action would have sent the budget back to the legislature to start over.
Here's a rundown of the major changes Evers made:
School funding guaranteed for four centuries
In a surprise move Wednesday, Evers used a partial veto to increase the state-imposed limits on how much money school districts can raise for the next four centuries.
The amount school districts are allowed to raise will increase by $325 per student each year until the year 2425, the largest increase since revenue limits were introduced in the 1993-94 school year.
Evers' move creates a permanent annual stream of new revenue for public schools and potentially addresses a long-running debate between Democrats and Republicans during state budget cycles. He told reporters at a press conference Wednesday his action would "provide school districts with predictable long-term increases for the foreseeable future."Dan Rossmiller, government affairs director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said the funding increase was "certainly appreciated" but worried the increase wasn't enough to meet or exceed the rate of inflation for some districts.
Tax cuts for the top two income brackets are out
Evers vetoed income tax cuts for the state's two highest income brackets, though Evers said every filer will still receive a tax cut. The budget also no longer condenses the four tax brackets to three.
Joint filers in the highest bracket, making $405,550 or more, will no longer see a 15% reduction. Joint filers in the second-highest bracket, which falls between $36,840 and $405,550, will also not see around a 17% decrease.
However, Evers kept Republicans' proposed tax cuts for the bottom two tax brackets. The third largest tax bracket will decrease from 3.54% to 3.5%, and the lowest rate will go from 4.65% to 4.4%. Evers' income tax reductions total $175 million, a fraction of Republicans' $3.5 billion plan.
UW System will keep DEI positions
Evers also used his partial veto powers to keep more than 180 diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) positions for the UW System that Republicans wanted to eliminate, stating it would infringe on the UW Board of Regents' authority.Republicans put the DEI positions on the chopping block last month after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, accused diversity programs of "dividing" and "indoctrinating" college students by racial identity. Democrats, university officials and students broadly opposed the cuts and said the programs built a sense of community for minority student groups at overwhelmingly white UW campuses.
A $32 million cut to general UW System funding intended to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programming remained in the budget Evers signed Wednesday. UW campuses can recoup the money if they prove it will be spent on workforce development instead.
Some funding restored for childcare providers
Evers used a partial veto to provide $15 million in grants to childcare providers. Democrats have pushed to continue funding for a pandemic-era program that aided childcare centers after Republicans blocked putting $340 million toward the program.
Evers' changes make the money available in the form of grants, rather than revolving loans, to give the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. more flexibility to use the funds. Evers last week asked Republicans on the budget-writing committee to use remaining federal funding to continue the program, but they have not granted that request.
Slashed grant to VISIT Milwaukee to help pay for the RNC
Evers reduced a $10 million grant to the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau, or VISIT Milwaukee, to $1 million. The remaining $9 million will go to the state Department of Tourism for "general Remarketing purposes."
The grant was meant to help the visitor's bureau organize the 2024 Republican National Convention. In his veto message, Evers said he opposed Republicans providing "this level of funding" when they did not fund other priorities like child care and higher education.
Medicaid funding for transgender healthcare
Evers vetoed sections that would have prohibited transgender Wisconsinites from using Medicaid to pay for puberty-blocking drugs or gender-confirming surgeries.
WisconsinEye may not charge viewers
Evers also used his partial veto authority to bar Wisconsin's version of C-SPAN to charge viewers if it receives $10 million from taxpayers for its operations. Republicans writing the state budget included a $10 million fund for the network known as WisconsinEye that its operators can access if they raise matching funds.
Evers said he objects to any fees being charged given the "significant contribution of state resources."
What's still in the budget
Evers left other major parts of the state budget untouched, including pay raises for state employees, $125 million to address PFAS contamination and $2 million to help Green Bay host the National Football League draft in 2025.
Evers doesn't have the power to add back more than 500 items he wanted but Republicans removed, including paid family leave, expanding Medicaid and marijuana legalization.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Evers issued 51 partial vetoes to the budget. Here's what they do.