Gov. Tony Evers introduced a state budget that included significant public construction investment and the rollback of labor reforms. His first state budget proposal included many of his campaign promises, some of which were construction-related initiatives, namely:
- An overall spending increase of over 8%;
- A 10-cent gas tax increase with an automatic inflationary increase; and
- The rollback of labor reforms enacted during the Walker Administration.
Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature, made significant changes to Evers’s original proposal. On June 26, the Senate narrowly approved its version of the state budget on a 17-16 vote, with all Democrats and several Republicans voting against.
Construction-related changes that the Legislature made to Evers’s original proposal included:1
Labor Reforms. The Legislature eliminated any rollbacks to the Walker Administration’s signature labor legislation. As a result, Wisconsin will still have Right to Work and Project Labor Agreement Neutrality laws on the books, and will still not have a prevailing wage for public construction projects.2
Transportation Funding. The Legislature cut $185 million from Evers’s transportation funding request, and replaced his proposed gas tax increase and annual tax cost-of-living increases with increases to title transfer, car registration, and light truck transportation fees. The Legislature also added $326 million in bonding.
Capital Budget. The Legislature signed off on $1.9 billion over the two years, which was $600 million less than the amount Evers requested.
Construction-related Education. Near historic investments in career and technical education incentive grants and local youth apprenticeship grants.3
After some threats to veto the entire state budget, Gov. Evers used one of the nation’s most powerful veto pens to remove 78 Republican priorities (ironically, the exact average number of vetoes issued by previous Wisconsin governors over the last decade),4 and signed into law the $82 billion spending plan.
The 2019-21 budget includes a 5.6% spending increase over the 2017-19 state budget5. Major construction initiatives that the governor vetoed from the GOP-version include:
- Department of Transportation (DOT) study on tolling and mileage-based fees;
- Provisions capping light-truck registration fees for all trucks under 10,000 lbs. at $100, and instead reinstating a scale of fees based on weight;
- Limitations on a pilot program to use design-build delivery for Department of Transportation projects, meaning that the state will no longer need to use design-bid-build for road projects. According to Evers, the veto will give the department more flexibility to administer the program;
- Expansion of Interstate 41 between Brown and Outagamie counties;
- A $5 million allocation to begin plans to replace the 121-year-old Green Bay Correctional Institution (which is estimated to cost more than $300 million);
- New limits on local governments’ ability to oversee quarries, which would have reduced road work costs (in 2017, then-Gov. Walker vetoed a similar proposal);6
- A provision to rehab the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Kaukauna;
- An allocation of $15 million in general fund revenue for local road aid, instead leaving a $75 million increase;
- Provisions allowing the Wisconsin Building Commission to issue grants for nonstate projects; and
- Bonding authority for the University of Wisconsin System and other building projects, including the Medical College of Wisconsin cancer research facility and UW-Green Bay library renovation.
Interestingly enough, everyone has declared victory. Virtually every legislative Democrat who voted against the budget joined Evers in praising the final product. The legislative Republicans who voted in favor of the budget have called it a “good Republican budget.”
Fallout from Evers’ Vetoes
The conservative think tank Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is suing Evers over his use of vetoes. In addition, Republican legislators are circulating a constitutional amendment that, if passed by both houses of the Legislature twice over a four-year period and adopted by a statewide referendum, would prevent future governors from using vetoes to increase spending.7
Republican legislators are also considering veto overrides of Evers’s $75 million grant program, contending in part that it diverts money from local road projects, and instead allows it to be spent on transportation projects that Republicans do not support, including bike trails and buses.8
The veto overrides are considered very unlikely. While Republicans control both houses of the legislature with comfortable margins, they lack the supermajorities needed to override a governor’s veto, and it would be surprising if enough legislative Democrats would support a veto override. The last time the Legislature overrode a governor’s veto was in 1985.
3 See “ABC thanks members of Joint Finance for investing in closing the skills gap,” Associated Builders and Contractors, ABC Wisconsin News, May 17, 2019.
7 See “GOP Lawmakers Propose Limiting Governor’s Veto Power,” Wisconsin Public Radio, July 9, 2019.
8 See “Dept. of Transportation: Local governments now have access to $75 million in new transportation grant,” Wisconsin Department of Transportation, July 18, 2019.