MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Legislature's budget-writing committee completed its work Thursday on the state's next two-year spending plan, paving the way for the Senate and Assembly to vote on it later this month.
Here are some highlights of the budget as currently written by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee:
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 $2654,000 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 Gov. Tony 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, 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 for 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.
Teen drivers could opt out of taking a behind-the-wheel exam under a permanent policy that was tested during the coronavirus pandemic last year. To qualify, a driver must be applying for a non-commercial driver’s license, successfully complete a driver's education course that includes 30 hours of behind-the-wheel experience and not have any moving violations within six months of applying. An adult must also consent to waiving the test.
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.