In a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol, state Senate Republicans presented a budget plan that they say resolves almost all outstanding budget issues. The proposed budget does not contain any increase in taxes and fees to fund the transportation budget, the major roadblock to a budget agreement with the Assembly, relying instead on $712 million in bonding.
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the goal is to get the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) to meet again and pass the budget. “The next time the committee convenes, I think there is overwhelming support for the idea that we should be convening to finish off the entire budget,” Fitzgerald said. “Not to kind of hodgepodge this thing through, with agency by agency, kind of like we have been doing.”
Fitzgerald said the budget document contained all of the actions taken by the JFC on Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget. “It then also includes a number of provisions that the Senate side of the Finance Committee had convened on and developed the Senate’s position based on the papers that were presented by the non-partisan Fiscal Bureau,” Fitzgerald said.
“It also includes the negotiations that we did have with the Assembly, for the most part that encompasses K-12,” Fitzgerald said. “So those items that were negotiated and we felt that we came to a conclusion on are part of this document as well.”
The proposed budget would increase the eligibility for private school vouchers in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. Families with an income of less than 220 percent of the federal poverty level, rather than the current 185 percent of the federal poverty level, would now be eligible for the program. Families in the Racine and Milwaukee school choice programs can earn up to 300 percent of the poverty line.
Fitzgerald said there was one area of education funding that was not resolved with the Assembly Republicans, which was funding for the Special Needs Scholarship Program.
Fitzgerald said that the governor had been consulted about the budget proposal and that it met his criteria for a good budget. However, there was no promise from the governor regarding vetoes.
In addition to keeping the major highway projects on schedule, the proposed budget fully repeals the state’s prevailing wage law, eliminates the personal property tax on businesses, and eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax. It also eliminates Walker’s $203 million income tax cut and deletes his plan for a sales tax holiday on school supplies.
The personal property tax has been an issue of special concern to small businesses in the state who have complained about the unfairness of the tax and also the cost of compliance. The tax is imposed by local governments on business equipment, machinery and furniture.
Fitzgerald said that it was important to stay on the same side as the governor on the transportation funding issue while keeping the major projects on track. Fitzgerald also said that his caucus wasn’t comfortable with creating new revenue for DOT.
“We’re not comfortable putting more money, in other words, increases in revenue into that agency until we feel comfortable with that agency and the decisions that DOT are making,” Fitzgerald said.
Joint Finance Committee member Senator Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, also spoke at the press conference, said it was unrealistic to expect no bonding for transportation would be in the state budget.
“We have never paid for megaprojects in Wisconsin with cash,” Darling said. “It’s the idea that the roads are going to be 30 to 40 years old in their duration. The notion is the taxpayers over the duration should pay for them, get to share paying for them, and it is impossible to pay for those projects in cash. We have never done that. And it’s not smart to do that.”
Darling pointed to the effect of delaying projects in southeastern Wisconsin would have on Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ district. “There are companies looking at developing major projects in that corridor but they have to have an infrastructure that’s solid,” Darling said. “We have to make that commitment.”
In a letter to Vos also released on Tuesday, Fitzgerald called the proposed budget, “a reasonable compromise on the major outstanding issues.”
“We hope that you will give this proposal fair consideration and that we can move forward with approval of a budget that puts more money into Wisconsin’s schools, invests in our state’s infrastructure, and continues to lower the tax burden on our residents,” Fitzgerald wrote.