Tony Evers in the coming days will get to make the most consequential decisions so far of his governorship.
At issue: How much of the Republican-written state budget to keep.
Wisconsin governors have extensive veto powers that allow them to trim words and numbers from budgets at will.
Mindful of that, Republicans were careful to use the word “cannot” instead of the phrase “shall not” throughout the budget. If they hadn’t done that, Evers could have transformed “shall not” to “shall” and thereby gotten the opposite of what lawmakers wanted.
“All we did is use our own constitutional power to make sure the ability for him to veto out individual words and try to change the meaning of what we all voted for is as limited as possible,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester said Thursday. “We have tried to limit that as much as we can, but we will see how creative he is with his veto.”
With the budget stretching hundreds of pages, there was only so much Republicans could do to protect themselves.
Now attention turns to the Democratic governor. He’s mostly kept mum about what he’ll do, but has provided some hints about what he might veto.
Evers has the option of vetoing the entire budget, but no governor has done that since the state adopted its current budgeting system in 1931, and one of his cabinet secretaries last week signaled it was unlikely.
With a veto of the entire budget, Evers could try to force Republicans back to the Capitol to negotiate a new spending plan. But there appears to be little chance that Republicans would agree to revive work on the budget any time soon.
In the meantime, there would be no increases for schools, roads or health care programs—Evers’ top concerns.
Republicans included a middle-class income tax cut that’s similar to one proposed by Evers.
Evers wanted a bigger income tax cut, which would have been covered by increasing taxes on capital gains and manufacturers.
Republicans rejected the tax increases.
Evers in February vetoed a similar income tax cut because it didn’t include higher taxes for some manufacturers. But he could also sign the tax cut and champion it as victory for ordinary Wisconsinites, given that the tax cut is geared for the middle class, unlike some past GOP tax breaks.
The state is preparing to build new lockups for teen offenders to replace Lincoln Hills School for Boys, which is supposed to close in 2021. Some of the new facilities would be run by the state and others by counties.
The Republican budget would shift $40 million meant for the state facilities to the county facilities. That would leave no funding for the state facilities, just as Evers prepares to build them on a tight time frame.
Evers proposed in his state budget a plan to eliminate work requirements for public assistance programs like FoodShare and Medicaid programs like BadgerCare Plus. Republicans changed the budget to keep the work requirements.
The work requirement for FoodShare applies to healthy people who do not have young children. For Medicaid, healthy people who have no dependent children, who are under 50 and who haven’t worked for four years must begin working or be looking for a job.
Evers could veto funding that helps enforce the work requirements.
In a dig at Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Republicans included a provision in the budget that would prevent the state from spending more on annual security for him than it did for GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch during her last year in office.
That was added in response to reports that Barnes’ security costs have greatly exceeded Kleefisch’s.
Evers has said he will veto the spending limit.
Republicans cut state funding for Milwaukee County by $14 million for child welfare services there. The provision led to a Republican and Democrat on the budget committee sparring over whether the state was “screwing” Milwaukee or the other way around.
Democrats are hoping to get the funding back for Milwaukee County, but that could be tricky to accomplish using vetoes.
One plank of the state budget would provide $5 million to initiate plans to replace Green Bay Correctional Institution, which is more than 100 years old. Building a new prison could ultimately cost more than $300 million.
Evers campaigned on reducing the prison population and closing prisons. But he also said in January that the Green Bay facility “seemingly needs to be replaced.”
Republicans tucked a measure into the budget that would limit the ability of local governments to oversee quarries. That proposal has drawn criticism from town officials.
Republicans folded a similar provision in the 2017 budget, but then-Gov. Scott Walker vetoed it.
Another part of the budget would require the state to conduct a review of security at the state Capitol.
The state is supposed to get help from the Madison Police Department, but Republicans did not consult with the department before adding the study to the budget, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
To secure the vote of GOP Sen. Chris Kapenga of Delafield, Republicans tacked a last-minute amendment onto the budget that would allow Tesla to sell its electric vehicles directly to consumers instead of having to go through dealers.
Kapenga has sponsored standalone legislation to do the same thing and is the owner of a business that sells salvaged Tesla vehicles and Tesla parts.
Kapenga said the business is a hobby and the measure wouldn’t help his bottom line.
A new fund will help ensure the Janesville School District’s efforts to promote early childhood education keep moving forward.
The Janesville School Board this week unanimously approved creating an endowment fund through the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin to funnel money into the district’s community-based early literacy program.
“The literacy initiative is a group of community people tasked with closing the achievement gap,” Superintendent Steve Pophal told the board Tuesday. “It’s supporting families so that 4- and 5-year-olds enter school ready to learn.”
The achievement gap refers to the disparity in academic achievement among students of various income levels, races and genders.
The early literacy program, which started in fall 2017, has two parts: parent education and getting books into children’s hands.
With financial help from the United Way, the school district joined the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which mails age-appropriate books to 1,000 children on a monthly basis, according to Pophal’s memo to the school board.
The United Way has agreed to pay for three years of the Imagination Library at a cost of $90,000, according to the memo.
The parent education part of the initiative is called “Read, Talk & Play Every Day.” Mercyhealth and SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville have agreed to give new parents training and information on brain development. Parents also will receive literacy kits with a book, a set of easy brain development activities and a rattle.
“With parents knowing the why and how of early literacy, it’s impossible to think those books won’t get put to good use,” Pophal told the board.
Pophal and other members of the early childhood literacy team have raised $65,000 to pay for materials. Efforts by district staff and medical professionals to educate parents also have helped, the memo states.
The early literacy program is crucial to the success of the district’s goal to have 90% of third-graders reading at grade level before they leave third grade.
If children don’t read and talk with parents early on, they start school behind their peers. Watching television or videos does not supply the same experiences, Pophal has said.
Using a pay-as-you-go system for the early literacy initiative has worked so far, but the program needs uninterrupted funding to reap the most benefits, he said.
“The district has had a fair amount of success with donations so far,” he said. “But the ability to sustain this work sends us in the direction of an endowment.”
The school board will oversee the fund. The Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin will charge the fund 1.25% of its fair market value each year.
Board member Michelle Haworth said the new fund will create a “legacy for the community.”
Sean P. Dunphy
Phyllis M. Rice
Wayne L. Steele
TOWN OF SUGAR CAMP
On Sunday, Greg Tessier went fishing.
But before he left, he gave his son Isaac a big hug. Greg patted him on the chest and told him he loved him. Isaac had a reputation for always showing his love.
While Greg was fishing with another of his sons, he heard sirens in the distance.
He didn’t know the sirens were for Isaac. After he returned home, he got the news.
Isaac B. Tessier, who adored The Beatles and loved dressing up in costumes, died in a car crash Sunday in the town of Sugar Camp, where the family moved last year after living in Janesville since 2005.
Isaac was 16.
Early on, Greg said doctors thought Isaac might never walk or speak. But he grew up with special needs.
“He was a miracle,” Greg said. “Every day was a miracle with Isaac.”
The moment father and son shared in Greg’s room was the last moment they had together.
Isaac’s mother, Jean, made him lunch before the crash. They had been watching a Chicago Cubs game.
Isaac loved the Cubs. He really loved them. He insisted on being called Isaac Anthony Rizzo, a nod to the first baseman. The family has a dog named Wrigley.
Isaac was the friendly manager of Northland Pines High School’s varsity football, basketball and baseball teams who cared for his “athletes,” as he called them.
Isaac gave the teams pep talks. After he died, a summer league baseball team—some who were fans of the Milwaukee Brewers—paid tribute by wearing Cubs gear.
At a Thursday memorial service, several attendees wore Cubs shirts. Jean said even the priest, who claims to be Eagle River’s No. 1 Brewers fan, wore a Cubs hat.
Isaac participated in the Northern Access Special Olympics—he placed in bowling, snowshoeing and track and field, Greg said.
Isaac’s laughter and spirit were so infectious he inspired people he knew to pursue careers in special education, Jean said.
He was a friend who showed unconditional support. Greg heard from a student who said whether you were playing a sport or taking a test, Isaac was always your No. 1 fan.
“We thought we needed to support him, but he was supporting so many,” he said.
Isaac brought a lot of joy to his parents’ lives, but they have learned since his death how much he brought to others, too.
Isaac would get dressed up for any occasion. St. Patrick’s Day? Leprechaun. Trip through the Southwest? Cowboy hat. Christmas? Elf costume.
Angie Kirkpatrick was one of Isaac’s teachers for three years at Marshall Middle School. She also joined him in a leprechaun costume one year.
“I’m trying to think through the right words. It still hits me a little bit hard,” she said. “He is one of the most charismatic, funny, kind, loyal people you would ever meet.
“I mean, he loved everything. He loved life. He just was a person that you couldn’t help but smile when you were around him.”
Isaac enjoyed Star Wars so much the family has another dog named Chewbacca. During his freshman year at Craig High School, the jazz band for Isaac’s birthday let Isaac direct a Star Wars song, Jean said.
“He was always happy, you know? ‘Happy to be Isaac,’ is what we used to say,” she said. “He didn’t realize he had anything different from anybody else, so he never dwelled on that. He was just happy being Isaac, and we were happy to have him as Isaac.”
Greg always will remember the drives to school. Isaac sat in the front seat as they listened to The Beatles channel on satellite radio.
Isaac, whose mom said he won a school costume contest for his Ringo Starr Sgt. Pepper outfit, knew every word to every song. He would lip sync and make gestures like he was performing in the car, Greg said.
“It was fun. You know, it was just, it was fun to do,” Greg said. “That was just like our normal day. That was just a normal day. That’s the stuff, just a normal day—that’s what I’m gonna miss.”