Reaction to Evers budget plan shows Capitol's political divide

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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - Governor Tony Evers gave his first budget address Thursday night in a speech at the Capitol lasting about 45 minutes. While he received lots of applause from Democrats, Republicans were mostly silent.

A major point the governor emphasized during his address to the Legislature was that he feels the state cannot afford to play politics with this two-year budget.

As former state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Gov. Evers is a big advocate of public education -- and announced funding for K-through-12 schools will increase by 10 percent.

For higher education, the governor says a tuition freeze in the U.W. system will continue for at least two years.

As we've reported, Evers would like to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize possessing up to 25 grams of recreational marijuana.

The budget also includes the state accepting federal Medicaid expansion and raising the state's gas tax 8 cents a gallon.

Evers says $320 million in new money will go towards highway repair and expansion.

"We're going to be increasing fees for titles and heavy trucks, and we do have to raise the gas tax, but as I promised all along we're sure as heck not going to raise the gas tax by a dollar," Evers said. Instead, Evers proposes eliminating the minimum mark-up law on gas, which could result in a net decrease in the price at the pumps.

State Republicans have shown great opposition since the governor began trickling out plans for his budget.

Just after the governor spoke pledging more money to be spent on everything to fixing roads to public schools and health care, many Republicans expressed concern.

"A lot of promises, a lot of spending, a lot of tax increases," Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) said. "It sounds like we're going to have to take a look at the budget once it comes out to see what the analysis is, but we're not going to stand for massive tax increases for our constituents."

"We finally heard after eight years someone who was willing to invest in infrastructure and address transportation's shortfall. I think that's a starting point. He made sure we' re going to invest in our public schools like he campaigned on," Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said.

Other items in the budget focused on policy changes the governor says are results of his statewide listening session. These include marijuana decriminalization and allowing undocumented workers to be able to obtain a driver's license or state I.D.

"It was a very positive message today, and it truly is the people's budget because he went out and listened to the public. I was with him at UWGB, and he was in Milwaukee and all over, so it's not a finished product, obviously, but he's got his heart in the right place," Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) said.

"I've always advocated to keep budgets clean of policy. Obviously the new governor, Evers, proposed a whole bunch of policy items that were non-fiscal in nature. If you really believe in democracy and you believe in transparency, these have to be sent to separate committees and fully ventilated," Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Allouez) said.

The governor's budget now goes before the Committee on Joint Finance, which Republicans control on a 12-to-4 margin. They've already indicated they will strip out every policy item for separate debate.