By Benjamin Yount for Watchdog.org
No one really knows what Wisconsin’s next state budget will look like yet. But it’s a good bet the new two-year spending plan won’t expand Medicaid, move toward medical marijuana, or raise the minimum wage in the state.
Republicans in Madison on Thursday voted to remove those ideas, and several more, from Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed budget.
The end of the Medicaid expansion drew the most complaints.
“The people’s voices are being recklessly disregarded,” state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said during Thursday’s Joint Finance Committee meeting at the Capitol. “For what? For some political agenda that subordinates the priorities of the people of this state.”
Democrats are furious that Republicans voted to remove the governor’s Medicaid expansion, and turn down what Evers has said could be a $2.4 billion windfall for Wisconsin.
“Within one motion we are taking away access to the lowest of the low income here in the state of Wisconsin when it comes to healthcare. And we’re taking away a minimum wage increase,” state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said. “I will let people draw their own conclusions on that. But if you are poor in Wisconsin, I would strongly suggest you move to another state.”
Erpenbach slammed Republicans as unwilling to help poor families in Wisconsin, but more than willing to help big companies in the state.
JFC co-chair state Rep. John Nygren said Democrats need to tone it down.
“Obviously we’re not going to agree on this issue. But we need to stop on the rhetoric,” Nygren told Erpenbach and the other Democrats Thursday. “We both want people to have access to care. It’s just your perspective is that government is the solution.”
Republicans have declined for years in Wisconsin to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
Evers said that adding 80,000 people to the state’s healthcare rolls will bring-in hundreds of millions of dollars that can than be matched and poured back into state government.
There’s little mention that most of the people who would be eligible for the expansion are young, single, able-bodied men without children. Republicans say those people should be working. Lawmakers point to the state’s worker shortage.
And Republicans say that every other state that’s expanded Medicaid has seen costs surge. A report from earlier this year said a Medicaid expansion would cost Wisconsin taxpayers $600 million.
As for the rest of Evers’ budget, Nygren said Republicans are trying to hold the line on taxes.
“There is simply no reason to raise taxes.,” Nygren said in a statement after the JFC vote. “We will make significant investments in shared priorities, but we will do it by living within our means. Our budget will be responsible, sustainable, and funded with the money we already have on hand.”
Republicans have proposed their own budget. That should be ready in a few weeks.
Then lawmakers say they will wait to see how Evers will use his extraordinarily powerful veto pen to change their proposal.
Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for Watchdog.org.