MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers was cool to the idea of cutting taxes Tuesday as Republican leaders have floated, saying instead he wants the GOP-controlled Legislature to focus on passing gun control measures, criminal justice reform, expanding Medicaid and legalizing medical marijuana.
Evers, speaking at an event organized by WisPolitics.com, laid out his priorities for the fall legislative session that will begin in October. Passing medical marijuana was one of the few ideas Evers discussed that has bipartisan support, but even that faces an uphill battle in the face of opposition from Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers last week introduced a medical marijuana bill. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he was open to the idea, while Fitzgerald has long been opposed. The bill would have to pass both the Senate and Assembly and be signed by Evers before becoming law.
Evers said he hoped to get Vos and the Assembly involved in passing the bill and then try to convince Fitzgerald it’s the “right thing to do.”
When the medical marijuana bill was introduced last week, Fitzgerald said he didn’t support it and “it’s going to be a tough sell to a majority of my caucus.”
Fitzgerald, who also announced last week that he’s running for Congress, has suggested the possibility of cutting taxes if state revenues continue to come in above projections. But Evers was cool to that idea, saying he didn’t think it was wise to use a one-time influx of money to cut permanently cut taxes.
“I think it’s questionable rhetoric,” Evers said. “My guess is it has something to do with election prospects for him.”
Fitzgerald’s spokesman, Alec Zimmerman, said in response that it was no surprise Fitzgerald would want to cut taxes given his voting to reduce taxes by billions of dollars since 2011. He also noted that Fitzgerald had been talking in August about cutting taxes, before he announced his run for Congress.
Evers said he was hopeful Republicans would come around on a pair of gun safety bills he and Democrats are pushing. One would institute universal background checks and the other would put in place a “red flag” law to allow judges to take firearms away from people determined to be a risk.
Given polls showing high public support for such ideas, Evers said it would be “political suicide” to reject them.
“We’re going to press the issue,” he said. Evers said he would call a special session of the Legislature if necessary, but even that wouldn’t force Republicans to take up the bills.
Evers also downplayed comments he made last week, in reaction to a reporter’s question, that he was open to buying back assault weapons from people who legally own them, as Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke supports. Evers said that no one would be making such a proposal. Republicans said the comment last week by Evers showed that his true agenda was to take guns away from people who legally own them.
“I would look at that,” he said of a gun buyback measure. “My goal is to work on two things that we know the people of Wisconsin want — universal background checks and making sure that people that are struggling with mental issues deemed to be dangerous by a court of law have their guns temporarily taken away from them.”
Evers said he also wanted to keep the pressure on Republicans to support Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin. Evers and Democrats have pushed it for years, but Republicans have refused to go along.
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