Gov. Tony Evers’ first budget proposes giving more authority to unelected bureaucrats, reducing transparency, reversing state law to cede more power to the federal government, and would raise taxes by at least $1,000 per person in Wisconsin to pay for it, critics argue.
“It’s ironic that Gov. Evers calls his budget ‘the people’s budget’ when he is empowering unelected bureaucrats to make laws with less input from the public and democratically elected legislature,” Lucas Vebber, deputy counsel and director of regulatory reform at Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), said.
The budget creates less transparency in agency decision-making through several measures, WILL says. It would repeal the mandate requiring agencies to publish guidance documents used by state employees on how to apply laws and regulations, accept public comments, and post documents on agency websites, certifying they are compliance with Chapter 227 of state law.
“The public has an interest in ensuring that these documents are not actually illegally issued rules in violation of Chapter 227 of the statutes,” WILL states. “These measures help the regulated community and the general public better understand how government operates, and help guarantee that agencies are only acting within their proper statutory and administrative authority.”
Evers’ budget also proposes repealing state statutory prohibitions that determine what can and cannot be included in a federal implementation plan, which relates to federal laws or rules imposed on states.
A request for comment from Evers’ administration went unreturned.
Wisconsin state law stipulates that federal plans do not confer rule making authority, meaning no state agency can comply with a federal rule’s implementation plan unless it has state statutory authority to do so. Evers’ plan cedes state authority to the federal government, WILL argues.
“State agencies do not get their authority from the federal government, they get it from the people of Wisconsin,” WILL states. “This proposal from the governor cedes some control of state agencies to the federal government.”
Evers proposal would also repeal statutory provisions concerning how state agencies interpret and enforce state statutes and regulations. The provisions Evers’ is seeking to eliminate, WILL argues, “help level the playing field and ensure that courts determine what laws mean, not government bureaucrats.”
In 2018, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that courts will no longer defer to agency interpretations of laws. The Legislature then specified that no agency was permitted to seek deference on an interpretation of law, and that courts “shall accord no deference to an agency’s interpretation of law.”
Repealing the provisions will only create uncertainty, especially in light of the court’s ruling, WILL argues.
Wisconsin was the first state in the U.S. to enact a REINS Act to end agency deference, which now could be reversed if Evers’ budget were implemented.
In the second year of Evers’ budget, state government employment would create an additional 701 positions, increasing the number of state employees to 71,990.
“How would Evers – Wisconsin’s taxpayers, really – pay for it all?” Matt Kittle at the MacIver Institute asks. “Taxes. Billions of dollars in new and expanded tax revenue.”
Speaker of the Assembly Robin J. Vos said that to implement Evers’ budget taxes would need to be raised by at least $1,000 on “every man, woman and child in this state.”
In a joint statement, state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said Evers plans to spend more than the state’s record surplus.
“Governor Evers is digging another hole that Republicans will have to fill,” they claim, referring to the deficit the GOP-controlled Legislature inherited from Democratic governor Jim Doyle in 2011.
While raising taxes and spending the state surplus, Evers also gave his cabinet members double-digit raises, the MacIver Institute found through an open records request.
Evers’ appointed heads of department have been given salaries ranging from 10 to 20 percent more than their predecessors’ salaries. His Secretary of the Department of Administration would receive the most: 20 percent more than former Gov. Scott Walker’s DOA Secretary. Evers’ Department of Health Services Secretary would receive 13 percent more than her predecessor, his Transportation Secretary, 10 percent more, the Department of Natural Resources Secretary, 11 percent more, among others.
“The Governor proposed a massive increase in the administrative state: more than 700 new government employees, massive spending increases, and over a billion dollars in new taxes and fees to pay for it,” Vebber told Watchdog.org. “It is clear that getting a good deal for taxpayers is not a priority for this administration and these pay increases are proof of that.”
State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo said giving his department heads double-digit raises shows that Evers “has no regard for how hard taxpayers have to work and he’s proving it by just throwing money around left and right.”