Highlights of Republican-authored Wisconsin state budget
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin legislators were expected to take their final votes on the 2021-23 budget Wednesday evening.
The Senate was expected to vote on the $87 billion spending plan sometime Wednesday night. The Assembly approved the budget late Tuesday night. Senate approval would send the bill to Gov. Tony Evers, who can use his partial veto powers to rewrite the document or kill it outright.
Here are some highlights from the budget:
Bolstered by rosier revenue projections, Republicans inserted $3.3 billion in income and property tax cuts into the budget. The provisions include $2.7 billion in cuts for people who earn between $24,000 and $264,000 annually and nearly $650 million in local property tax cuts for schools and technical colleges. The budget would backfill that lost revenue with state aid. Residents would see a property tax bill but schools would come out even.
Republicans gave public schools an additional $128 million in state funding over two years, which is less than 10% of the $1.6 billion that Evers proposed. Republicans defended the move, noting that Wisconsin schools are slated to receive $2.6 billion in federal coronavirus relief money. However, nearly all of that would have been in jeopardy unless the state spent nearly $400 million more on schools. The additional $647 million in state aid Republicans handed schools to replace revenue lost through property tax reductions satisfies the spending requirement, ensuring schools will receive all of the $2.6 billion in federal aid.
The plan would reimburse school districts 30% of special education costs in the second year of the budget, up from 28.2% currently. Special education advocates say that is woefully inadequate. The Evers budget would increase reimbursement to 45% in the first year and 50% in the second.
The eight-year-old tuition freeze would end this fall under the GOP budget. UW schools would also receive just an $8.25 million increase in funding, compared with the $192 million Evers proposed.
There are no gas tax or vehicle registration fee increases. The budget would authorize the start of the oft-delayed Interstate 94 expansion project in Milwaukee County, as Evers wanted. State funding for transit programs was cut in half in Milwaukee and Madison, but Republicans said that was because those Democratic strongholds are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief money.
State building projects would receive $1.5 billion in funding, which is roughly $810 million less than what Evers wanted. The UW System would get about $629 million, down from the $1 billion Evers put forward.
Wisconsin’s land stewardship program would be extended for four years instead of the 10 that Evers wanted. The budget also would make $32 million per year available to acquire land, which is the amount available now but less than half of the $70 million Evers proposed.
The budget includes more money for vocational training for the disabled, and youth and adult apprentice programs with the goal of addressing the state’s worker shortage problem. However, Republicans rejected Evers’ call to spend $15 million to improve the system for administering unemployment payments. Republicans said Evers can use federal stimulus money for that.
Broadband expansion would get $125 million, which is less than the roughly $200 million Evers proposed. The money would also be borrowed rather than paid with cash, as Evers proposed.
Funding to pay for body cameras for Wisconsin State Patrol officers and Department of Natural Resources wardens is included, but funding was rejected to equip state Capitol police officers with them.
A state mental health center in Madison will be expanded to reduce the number of inmates at the state’s juvenile prisons, but Republicans did not include funding to build a new juvenile prison in Milwaukee County. Instead, only money for the planning process was included, which Democrats said would delay the closure of the troubled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons north of Wausau.
State transportation officials began a pilot program allowing drivers to earn their licenses without taking road tests last year as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold. Evers included language in the budget to make the policy permanent. Assembly Republicans on Tuesday struck the provision from the budget. Transportation officials say they haven’t set an end date for the pilot program, though, which means drivers can continue to waive road tests indefinitely.
Evers’ proposals to legalize recreational and medical marijuana, expand Medicaid and restore collective bargaining rights for public workers were among the first items killed by the legislative committee. Also removed in one vote striking out nearly 400 Evers proposals were $1 billion in higher taxes on manufacturers and capital gains; increasing the minimum wage to $10.15 per hour by 2024; suspending enrollment in the private school voucher program; and creating a so-called red flag law that would allow guns to be seized from people deemed to be a danger by courts.