Tony Evers speaks to the Wisconsin Public Education summit in 2019. (Photo by Ruth Conniff)
On Wednesday, Feb. 26 Gov. Tony Evers held a news conference in Wauwatosa to announce his veto of Senate Bill 821. The plan, passed by both houses of the Legislature, would have used the state’s projected revenue surplus to cut income and business taxes.
The measure “failed to fulfill Republicans’ own promise to get to two-thirds state funding for K-12 education,” Evers said in a statement explaining his veto, and “does not provide broad property tax relief or reduce reliance on local referenda for school funding and leaves $123 million less in the state’s rainy-day fund.”
Evers called the Legislature into a special session to consider his proposal to use a $250 million projected surplus to restore two-thirds state funding for K-12 public schools. His proposal included $10 million in sparsity aid for rural schools that would have meant a significant increase in resources for rural school districts. The plan also would have provided $130 million to reduce property taxes through equalization aid.
Both houses of the Legislature refused to consider Evers’ proposal. Instead they sent him the tax-cut proposal, which he vetoed today.
“Investing in our kids and our schools and reducing property taxes should be something everyone can agree on. It’s a win-win for our kids and the people of our state,” Evers said. “We don’t have to choose between investing in our kids and reducing property taxes—we can and should do both. So, today I am vetoing this bill with the expectation that Republicans will come to the table and that we can find a compromise that invests in our schools while providing broad, meaningful property tax relief for taxpayers in Wisconsin.”
Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson first made the commitment that the state would fund two-thirds of K-12 public schools back in the mid-1990s. Both Evers and former Gov. Scott Walker campaigned on restoring that Thompson-era promise, and Assembly Republicans declared it a priority to restore two-thirds funding to schools in a list of goals for the session they sent to the governor in 2019.
But the budget passed by the Legislature and signed by Evers did not include two-thirds funding for schools.
Most of the rest of Evers’ proposals came out of recommendations made by the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, co-chaired by Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) and Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). This includes increasing the state reimbursement for special education costs to 30%.
“We cannot continue to ignore the fact that for the past ten years, the state has been asleep on the job when it comes to fully funding our schools, and that folks across our state are seeing an increase in their property taxes,” said Evers. “It’s time for Republicans to put politics aside, and let’s work together to find a compromise that works for everyone.”
“I am ready and willing to work across the aisle to find a compromise that will get to two-thirds funding while still providing tax relief and reducing our state debt,” Evers declared in his veto message. “I am hopeful Republican and Democratic leadership in the Legislature will come to the table to get this done for the people of our state.
“Governor Evers should have signed the bill that returns surplus dollars back to the taxpayers and pays down debt,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement responding to the veto.
“It seems that Governor Evers is obsessed with growing government more than addressing the needs of the middle class,” Vos added. “While the governor says he wants to work with the legislature, his actions prove otherwise. He had every chance to discuss his spending plan over the last few weeks, including during the meeting I had with him the day before he announced the special session on education.”
Vos praised the Republican budget’s increases in education funding.
“The regular session of the state Assembly has concluded,” Vos stated. “We will likely return in May to attempt to override gubernatorial vetoes.”
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