Perspectives
February 17, 2021 | By Dan O’Donnell
Policy Issues
State Budget

An Unserious Budget From An Unserious Governor

Dan O’Donnell dissects Governor Evers’ Budget Address, which sounded a lot more like a re-election campaign kickoff than a major policy speech.

It was a fitting end to Governor Evers’ pre-taped Budget Address: As “On Wisconsin” played, the screen split into 16 different shots of supporters, who started applauding. Only it was obviously daytime. And Evers’ Budget Address aired at night.

Clearly these people weren’t actually clapping for anything Evers said and, really, why would they be?

In a characteristically mundane yet shockingly radical speech, the Governor proposed $3.2 billion in new spending and more than $1 billion in tax increases. Even more stunningly, he called for an end to Act 10, which has saved Wisconsinites $13.9 billion over the past decade. Evers also wants to legalize both medicinal and recreational marijuana, repeal the state’s right-to-work law, raise its minimum wage, and boost K-12 school spending by $1.6 billion.

This was nothing more than Evers’ re-election announcement wrapped in the formality of a policy address.

Simply put, this is an unserious budget from an unserious man who cares more about preening and picking fights ahead of his re-election bid next year than he does about actually governing. There is, of course, no chance that Republicans in the Legislature approve any of the nonsensical tax-and-spend liberalism he proposed Tuesday night, and he made no attempt at the compromise he’ll need to get his more moderate policy items through.

This was nothing more than Evers’ re-election announcement wrapped in the formality of a policy address. Policy, though, has never been the Governor’s forte. The COVID-19 pandemic has proved this for a year running; from his Administration’s utter failure to deliver unemployment benefits to its unconstitutional never-ending emergency declarations.

This, combined with the historical likelihood of a big Republican midterm election with a Democrat now in the White House, has prompted Team Evers to get desperate to make the upcoming election about something, anything other than his dismal record.

“You may not like me very much, but I’ll bet you like smoking weed!” seems to be the cynical calculation here. Many believe that Evers was elected in 2018 only on the back of non-binding marijuana referenda in dozens of counties and municipalities, and he is clearly trying to awaken the pothead vote yet again.

As if there was any doubt that Evers’ Budget Address was telegraphing this overture to the, errrrr, non-traditional voter, he is also proposing automatic voter registration. Whenever someone turns 18 or moves to Wisconsin, they would be automatically added to the state’s voter rolls. This is critical to ensure that once Evers’ voter base is good and high, they don’t space on registering to vote for him, maaaaannnn.

This would all be funnier if it wasn’t so tragic for a state in desperate need of leadership over the next two years. Evers has all but abandoned any pretense of governing from the center…or governing at all, for that matter. His budget proposal is so far to the left that the legislative leaders who would need to sign off on it could barely contain their laughter at its audacity.

“Instead of priorities to move the state forward, the governor’s budget proposal is more of a political document to fill the wish lists of his own party,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement shortly after Evers’ address.

“The Governor’s budget is completely irresponsible and unrealistic,” added Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu. “It’s reckless with tax dollars and loaded with divisive policies that move our state backward.”

Political fights over a biennial budget during periods of divided government have been commonplace throughout Wisconsin’s history, but perhaps never before has a Governor stuck his thumb so deeply in the Legislature’s eye. It couldn’t possibly agree to any of Evers’ signature proposals, and he knows it. That’s precisely why he proposed them.

This is an unserious budget from an unserious man who cares more about preening and picking fights ahead of his re-election bid next year than he does about actually governing.

Evers doesn’t just want a fight; he wants to make Republican opposition to his unrealistic nonsense—particularly marijuana legalization—the centerpiece of his re-election bid. In other words, he wants to make his re-election a referendum not on his disastrous tenure, but on the alleged obstructionism of the Republican opposition.

It isn’t the worst political calculation in the world. After all, it is the go-to strategy of pretty much every failed incumbent. But it is terrible policy, especially during such a critical time in Wisconsin’s recovery from Evers’ economy-killing lockdown a year ago.

The fact that ahead of his speech the Governor referred to his new budget as a “bounce back” just might be the cruelest joke of all. What, pray tell, happened to the “Badger Bounce Back” plan Evers introduced last April? Didn’t it get the old ball bouncing?

Of course it didn’t. And neither will this budget, primarily because it isn’t designed to. It’s designed to get Republicans to reject it and, once they do, it’s designed to get Democrat voters out to the polls next year to salvage the far-left demagoguery that Evers calls a set of governing policies.

In that sense, it’s an appeal for the sort of blind, brainless support that has Evers supporters applauding in the daytime for a Budget Address the Governor gave at night.

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