The Latest: Evers Says Institutional Racism Exists in State

By The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Latest on state agency budget briefings to the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee (all times local):

7:45 p.m.

State Superintendent Tony Evers says he believes institutional racism is an issue with the state's schools.

Evers made the comment Thursday when asked during a briefing before the Legislature's budget-writing committee about how the achievement gap between white students and students of color could be narrowed.

Evers says the state has "difficulty around race issues." Evers, who is white, says many people who work in the schools "look like me" and were raised in small towns with little interaction with non-white people.

Evers says, "that doesn't get you to a place where you're culturally competent. That's a huge issue. That's not something that can be changed with a magic wand."

He says tackling institutional racism "will mean some hard conversations."

Evers was asked about it by state Sen. Lena Taylor, who is African American.

6:10 p.m.

State Superintendent Tony Evers is taking questions from state lawmakers who appear in a radio ad supporting his opponent for re-election Lowell Holtz.

Evers testified Thursday before the Legislature's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. Two Republicans on the panel appear in a radio ad released this week in support of Holtz. They are Sen. Alberta Darling and Sen. Leah Vukmir.

The election for state superintendent is Tuesday. The race is officially nonpartisan but Evers is generally backed by Democrats while Holtz has support from Republicans, including Darling and Vukmir.

Evers is urging the Legislature to support Gov. Scott Walker's budget that would direct $649 million in additional funding to K-12 schools.

6 p.m.

Wisconsin state Superintendent Tony Evers says he thinks only one or two districts in the state are not requiring employees to contribute at least 12 percent toward costs of their health care.

Evers told the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee on Thursday that he's worried a requirement in Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal could be wrongly interpreted to apply to about 20 districts. Walker wants to make more than $500 million in new state aid available only to schools that are compliant with the Act 10 law that set the 12 percent health insurance contribution requirement.

Republicans on the budget-writing committee have raised concerns about the requirement.

Evers says he's worried that applying the requirement could be arbitrary.

3:40 p.m.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says Assembly Republicans aren't scared by Gov. Scott Walker threatening to veto a gas tax increase.

Vos said Thursday that Assembly Republicans would override any veto they disagree with on the issue of transportation. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald earlier said Senate Republicans would ever vote to override a gas tax veto by Walker.

Vos says he has a plan to cut taxes and fees by $300 million to offset a gas tax increase but won't share details until Walker and others show they are open to negotiating. He says the Senate doesn't have an identifiable plan and that Walker changes his position "by the day."

Walker tweeted Wednesday night that he would veto any gas tax increase.

12:01 p.m.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he doesn't think the Legislature is on board with Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to move state workers to a self-insurance model "right now."

The idea has garnered bipartisan opposition. Fitzgerald commented Thursday after the Legislature's budget-writing committee raised numerous concerns about the idea earlier in the week.

Walker says the move would save the state $60 million, money that he wants to spend on K-12 schools and the University of Wisconsin System.

But Fitzgerald says questions from the Joint Finance Committee shows that both Republicans and Democrats are "very uncomfortable with it."

11:45 a.m.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says Republicans will not support a gas tax increase or vote to override any veto by Gov. Scott Walker on that issue.

Fitzgerald commented Thursday after Republicans on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee said they were willing to look at raising taxes to pay for roads.

But Fitzgerald says as long as Walker remains opposed to the idea, the Senate will not do it. He says there is not a will to override a Walker veto on that issue.

Walker threatened to veto a gas tax increase in a tweet on Wednesday night.

Fitzgerald says Republicans are exploring other options, but he would not say what they were.

11:20 a.m.

Democrats on the Legislature's budget committee are accusing Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp of failing to protect the environment.

Stepp appeared before the Republican-controlled committee to answer questions on the agency's portion of Gov. Scott Walker's 2017-19 state budget.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, a Stevens Point Democrat, immediately attacked Stepp, asking her why polluter fines have dropped dramatically, why the agency is ignoring the cumulative impacts of high-capacity wells and whether federal officials might strip the agency of its ability to enforce the Clean Water Act amid environmental groups' allegations the agency isn't complying with the act.

Stepp says the DNR is trying to head off pollution violations before they happen and the problem with considering cumulative impact is a lack of definitions. She says the agency has addressed 73 of 75 deficiencies the EPA identified in water regulation and she's confident the DNR will retain its ability to enforce the Clean Water Act.

The committee's co-chairwoman, Sen. Alberta Darling, a River Hills Republican, told Stepp that she thought she was doing a good job.

11 a.m.

Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp is defending Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate the agency's magazine in front of the Legislature's budget committee.

Walker's proposed 2017-19 budget calls for eliminating the DNR's Natural Resources magazine. Stepp told the committee during a briefing Thursday that DNR staff are spending time researching and writing articles, taking time from their core duties, and the DNR's digital media efforts reach thousands more people.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, a Stevens Point Democrat, questioned whether doing away with the magazine has anything to do with trying to mute discussion of climate change. Stepp responded ending the magazine is a business decision.

8:08 a.m.

The University of Wisconsin, K-12 schools and the Department of Natural Resources will all be in the spotlight as the Legislature's budget-writing committee completes three days of briefings.

The Joint Finance Committee meeting on Thursday comes after a 14-hour marathon Wednesday that saw Republicans on the panel disagreeing sharply with key planks of Gov. Scott Walker's budget.

The final hearing promises to bring more of the same. Lawmakers have already voiced displeasure with Walker's proposal to cut UW tuition 5 percent in the second year of the budget.

And while Walker has won praise for his plan to raise K-12 aid by $649 million, some have questioned where the money would come from and whether it's too much.

Walker's changes to the DNR have also drawn a backlash.