Author: Will Kenneally
Gov. Tony Evers unveiled his first budget in what he calls “the people’s budget.”
That’s because he and Lt Gov. Mandela Barnes held a series of listening sessions around the state to solicit input from Wisconsinites on what they would want to see in the first Democratic budget after eight years of Republican priorities under former Gov. Scott Walker.
It is unclear how much of the Evers budget will pass the Republican-controlled state legislature, as some Republicans have already called Evers’s proposals non-starters. Barnes said however that the items in the budget are important to Wisconsinites, as he sat down with WSUM for an exclusive interview.
When asked what the state could do to attract and retain young people, Barnes said it was about creating an environment in which people would want to live and grow their families. According to him, raising the minimum wage and investing in public education are among the ways Wisconsin can make itself more inviting to young people. He also mentioned climate change being a significant factor to where young people settle.
“You look at younger folks, people under the age of 35, who are looking to start a family. AOC [Alexandria Ocasio Cortez] mentioned it, about people who are hesitant to start a family because of climate change, and that’s a real thing. I’ve thought about that before, I’ve definitely thought about that before,” Barnes said.
For college students and recent graduates, Barnes said easing the burden of student debt is also important.
“It is a shame to think that students would forego continuing their education because they can’t afford it,” Barnes said.
The state budget also makes changing to how residency is calculated to determine who receives in-state tuition. Currently undocumented immigrants who live in Wisconsin must pay out-of-state tuition for in-state schools. The Evers/Barnes budget would make it so anyone attending a Wisconsin high school for three consecutive years would be able to receive the tuition break.
“If the option is to stay here, or go next door to Minnesota at a lower cost, then who wouldn’t do that,” Barnes said. “We can’t let cost be a hindrance to people continuing their education and contributing to the state of Wisconsin.”
On K-12 education, Barnes said there are inequalities in the state that bolstering public schools could help bridge.
Expanding school funding “will mean that more children have opportunity,” Barnes said. “We have to be a state that provides opportunity to every child regardless of ZIP code.”
Barnes said that on health care, he understood the plight of some Wisconsinites who struggle to find coverage.
“Access to health care was an issue and I went without health care. And I actually ended up breaking my arm too and I didn’t have health insurance … it was terrible,” Barnes said.
He added that where health care is affordable, it might not always be accessible and vice versa. One of the ways Barnes and Evers want to address the gap in those covered is to take federal Medicaid money, which has been a sticking point for Wisconsin Republicans who say it would cost the state more money in the long run.
“This is our money we send to Washington, D.C., we deserve to get that money back,” Barnes said.
Also in the budget:
Included in the budget is a plan to decriminalize certain amounts of marijuana for recreational use and legalize medical marijuana, which Barnes calls “a much more positive alternative to a lot of the highly addictive prescription drugs that people have been using.”
The legislation also includes a pledge to shift to completely renewable energy by the year 2050, as well as a minimum-wage increase.
On the issue of redistricting, the budget includes a change to how Wisconsin draws its legislative maps — giving the power to a nonpartisan committee. Barnes says the current method of letting the state legislature draw the maps is unfair and entrenches the power of Republicans who currently hold legislative majorities.
“We are looking to reintroduce Democracy to the state of Wisconsin,” Barnes said.
You can listen to our full interview available here.