The Session That Should Have Been
Governor Evers vetoed 28 bills on Friday, following another 43 he vetoed a week ago, giving him Wisconsin’s all-time record of gubernatorial vetoes in a legislative session. He’s vetoed 126 bills in just the last 16 months. Some of the vetoes are unsurprising, yet still disappointing.
With this action, the 2021-2023 legislative session is officially over. Before all the politicians head off to campaign back in their districts, we thought it would be a good time to review what they accomplished and remind Wisconsinites of Governor Evers’ refusal to work with the Legislature on any common sense solutions to Critical Race Theory, draconian COVID restrictions, ballot integrity and a host of other problems.
In response to an outpouring of parental concern and anger over school performance and curricula, particularly related to the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT), Republicans passed a number of education reform bills. Evers and the education establishment, led by Evers’ successor, DPI superintendent Jill Underly, characterize school reform measures as divisive and unnecessary, arguing education should be left to the “experts” and not parents, and insisting the only thing stopping schools from providing quality education is lack of funds, in spite of the $2.4 billion federal pandemic money that poured into Wisconsin schools on top of state investments taking state support of schools to the left’s holy grail of two-thirds funding.
- A Parent’s Bill of Rights to ensure parents are kept informed about how and what their children are being taught, as well as prohibiting schools from concealing information about a child’s health or violence in the schools – rights most parents had wrongly assumed they had.
- Expansion of the state’s school choice program to allow all parents to remove their children from low-performing or unaccountable schools to a private voucher school.
- Requiring early literacy assessments that will allow identification and remediation during the crucial K-3 years where reading skills are formed.
- Standardizing school assessment components, so that they aren’t altered by DPI to conceal deficiencies.
- Prohibiting schools from teaching racial or gender stereotypes, and that a person of any gender or race is inherently inferior to others.
- Dissolution of the failed Milwaukee Public School system, replacing it with smaller districts.
- A ban on teaching CRT at the UWs and the Technical Colleges.
The state budget took spending to historic levels, and the continued juggernaut of school spending has resulted in lower test scores, giving lie to the education establishment’s continued insistence that more money=better educational outcomes.
Continuing his steadfast opposition to election integrity, Evers also vetoed another slate of bills that would have made it easier to vote but harder to cheat:
- Limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, prohibiting clerks from “curing” absentee ballots by altering or adding to information provided by voters, and curtailing ballot trafficking.
- Protecting vulnerable nursing and group home residents from having their votes hijacked through election fraud.
- Banning local governments from seeking or accepting private donations for election administration and preventing anyone but lawful election officials from running election activities. In 2020, local governments contractually signed away authority over election spending and administration to corporate interests in order to access over $10 million in Zuckerbucks, undermining the integrity and impartiality of the local election administration.
- Requiring guidance from bureaucrats at the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) adheres to the legislative rule process to prevent their advising election officials to ignore election integrity statutes. WEC has repeatedly issued guidance to local officials that contradicts statute OKing ballot trafficking, drop boxes and leaving the votes of elderly and disabled voters unprotected from potential fraud.
A constitutional amendment that would have enshrined the requirement that a voter must present a photo ID in order to vote was passed by the Assembly but not voted on in the Senate.
Evers ran on a soft on crime slate, pledging to reduce prison populations by half. While the legislature has stayed his hand in wholesale release of criminals, Evers has made progress, reducing the population 16% since taking office. Meanwhile violent crime has sharply increased.
While he signed legislation to make sure convicts – who the administration calls “people in our care” – have multiple vendors from which to buy their hobby and personal items – Evers has vetoed bills:
- Requiring criminals continuing to serve their sentences on supervision in the community to be sent back to jail if charged with a new crime.
- Barring violent criminals from early release
- Creating penalties for rioting
- Penalizing local governments that defund law enforcement
A number of Evers’ vetoes this session doubled down on his administration’s focus on moving able-bodied, childless, working-age adults to welfare and keeping them there, instead of helping them to become gainfully employed. DHS figures show that 1.56 million people are on Medicaid today, up from 1.17 million when Evers took office. Medicaid is the single largest all-funds budget item in Wisconsin, accounting for over one-quarter of the state budget, spending over $350 every second. Taxpayers cover nearly a quarter of the population, on top of subsidies for Obama’s Affordable Care Act private insurance exchanges.
And yet, the Evers Administration continues covering MA recipients who are no longer eligible. Among the legislation vetoed were bills that:
- Required able-bodied adults without dependents on Medicaid to accept offers of employment, and increase in wages or work hours
- Required the removal of ineligible Medicaid recipients, twice-yearly eligibility checks, data-sharing between agencies to root out fraudulent recipients, and a ban on the automatic re-enrollment of recipients, regardless of eligibility
- Reinstate work requirements for able-bodied, childless, working-age adults receiving FoodShare benefits
The session began with COVID-19 on the front-burner, and the first bill introduced and sent to the governor barred public health officials from shutting down places of worship, protecting responsible businesses from costly litigation, covered COVID vaccines by SeniorCare, broadened eligibility for K12 open enrollment, and prohibited employers from requiring employee vaccination.
The bill was vetoed by the governor just hours after he received it and only days into the new session setting the tone for another session of partisan battles over pandemic legislation. The legislature returned to these issues later in the session, to repeated vetoes from Evers on bills to:
- Prevent discrimination based on vaccination status
- Prohibit requiring proof of vaccination to receive services
- Accept demonstrated natural immunity in place of proof of vaccination
VETOES OF BIPARTISAN BILLS
That there is a partisan schism in Wisconsin is news to no one, and Evers’ record-breaking number of vetoes of sound public policy that came from the other side of the aisle is, in an election year, predictable.
What is of note, and not being covered by the mainstream media, is how many bipartisan bills Evers vetoed in his effort to appease the most extreme fringe of his party, and his fundraising base.
Evers vetoed dozens of bills that had bipartisan support in the legislature, many of them moving through one or both houses with only a voice vote, typically indicating little if any opposition. Among these vetoes:
- A bill that would require municipalities broadcasting their election canvassing proceedings to keep recordings
- Bi-partisan bills that would have helped broaden access to safe healthcare by removing barriers that limit Emergency Medical Responders, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses and Certified Nurse-Midwives from serving patients to the full extent of their education and training, as well as a bill that protects both the public and alternative health care practitioners by defining limits of their practice.
- Bi-partisan natural resources bills regarding hunting or fishing and control of invasive species.
- Education-related bills that would have provided for earlier and more frequent assessments to catch reading difficulties as soon as possible.
- Bipartisan bills prohibiting local governments from closing churches due to COVID-19 and allowing veterans to receive state benefits regardless of whether they received a COVID vaccination.
EVERS TAX HIKES
As we reported, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau produced a report showing taxes have been cut in the state by $22 billion over the past decade, thanks to the efforts of legislative Republicans, and former Governor Walker.
Evers has used his two budget proposals to advance massive tax increases, which were rejected by the legislature. All told, Evers proposed more than $2.2 Billion in net tax and fee increases over his term – his total tax proposed increases amount to over $3.75 billion.
If Evers’ gas tax proposal had been passed, we would now be paying 42 cents in taxes per gallon instead of 32.9 cents, in Wisconsin, moving us into the top 5 high-gas-tax states. It’s thanks only to legislative Republicans that with the other pressures on family budgets caused by rampant inflation, we are not paying 28% higher taxes to fill up our cars.
LEGISLATURE REJECTS EVERS’ RADICAL BUDGET PROPOSAL AND FORCES EVERS TO SIGN LARGEST TAX CUT IN STATE HISTORY
The legislature rewrote his budgets, reversing the net $2.2 billion Evers tax hikes and sending him bills with $2.4 billion in net tax cuts.
As we reported, when the legislature delivered their 2021-23 budget to Evers’ desk, with a $2.4 billion income tax cut and a bipartisan vote in both houses, Evers threatened a first-time-in-history veto of the entire budget. Faced with competing pressures from his far-left base, and the prospect of a difficult election year, Evers signed the tax cuts into law.
Tax cuts that despite the massive tax hikes he proposed, Evers has persisted in claiming credit for. There is no question that Evers understands public support for tax cuts, and as he faces re-election, sees more benefit in claiming credit for work of legislators who – while increasing state spending – also managed a $6.6 billion swing in taxes to deliver relief to families.
We also should not forget the Evers budget would also have rolled back Act 10, which as we reported has saved taxpayers $15.3 billion and counting since 2011.
As Governor Evers’ term comes to a close and we’re experiencing the highest levels of inflation and violent crime in decades, we have the legislature to thank for staving off a far more dire situation. If the governor had his way, Wisconsin families would be paying billions in higher taxes, worsening the impacts of inflation. But unfortunately, much-needed reforms to crack down on violent crime, restore integrity to our elections, give parents the right to be involved in their children’s education, and get control of fraud and abuse in our welfare programs have been stalled by a governor who has used his veto pen to shut down the will of Wisconsinites.
Because Governor Evers persisted in vetoing legislation that has the obvious support of the public, the Legislature forwarded some of their priorities as Constitutional Amendments. These priorities were passed as joint resolutions on first consideration and would need to be passed in the next legislative session before being sent to the voters for final approval. If approved by voters, the Wisconsin Constitution would be amended. These proposals would:
- Specify that only U.S. Citizens may participate in Wisconsin elections.
- Prevent local officials from making deals with private entities to obtain resources for election administration and prohibit anyone other than legally authorized election officials from performing any election administration activities.
- Align Wisconsin with 48 other states that consider the risk to the public posed by an accused criminal when setting bail.
A constitutional amendment that would have enshrined the requirement that voter ID is required to vote in any election was also passed by the Assembly.
The story of the 2021-23 session is one of opportunities missed. The legislature was able to control the governor’s massive tax and spending increases in the budget, and craft a more responsible package. But dozens of bills important to Wisconsinites were destroyed through a historic number of vetoes issued by a governor more committed to election-year partisanship than transparent and accountable government.