MADISON, Wis. (WSAU) -- The Wisconsin Assembly passed the two-year budget plan Wednesday, but one thing was clearly missing: Democratic amendments. Democrats prepared many amendments for the floor debate, but surprised everyone by not offering a single one.
Minority Leader Peter Barca says it became clear Republicans were not open to changing the $70 billion spending package. State Representative Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point says she is hopeful the Senate will be able to make some key changes to stop the Assembly Republican package, and send it back to them with changes as early as Friday.
Republicans made some late amendments of their own Wednesday before the vote. They included the scrapping new limits on property tax breaks for disabled veterans and including a one-year delay on a provision that would make it easier for mega-dairies to get high-capacity water well permits.
Republican State Senator Tom Tiffany from Hazelhurst is glad the budget passed the Assembly and has moved to his side of the Capitol. He’s optimistic about what’s in this package. “I think it’s going to be good for the State of Wisconsin, especially when you contrast us with our neighboring states Minnesota and Illinois who are raising taxes, spending more money than the taxpayers have. It’s a real contrast and I think job creators in both Minnesota and Illinois are going to start looking at Wisconsin as being a good alternative to the direction that their states are going in.”
Republican State Senator John Spiros from Marshfield says no budget is perfect, but there were some good things for business, families, and students in this budget. “The UW tuition freeze I think is a good benefit for those parents who send children to UW and those children that go to UW” adding, “Expansion of school choice statewide, and tax deductions for private school tuition, so I think those were some of the positives we can take out of it.” Spiros is pleased with this budget’s tax cuts and school aid improvements. “From the standpoint of the middle class, the middle class gets a nice tax cut, so I would say from the standpoint of very favorable, that’s one of them. The other is K through 12 per-pupil funding is 150 in each year for the next two years. I think that’s outstanding.”
Democratic State Representative Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point says she’s extremely disappointed with this Republican-passed budget, and for her, one big issue is clear. “The opportunity to expand BadgerCare to insure eighty-five thousand more people while saving taxpayers over one hundred million dollars, I mean that’s one thing that doesn’t even make fiscal sense, that Republicans refused to accept and acknowledge, and I think that reflects the extremism that’s in the Legislature right now.” Shankland says the school voucher program expansion is the wrong thing to do, and she says it’s expensive. “I think they really need to come to terms with this voucher expansion. That’s giving people on both sides of the isle heartburn, because it could raise our taxes by one-point-nine billion dollars every year.”
Democratic State Representative Mandy Wright of Wausau opposed voucher school expansion and wanted more per-pupil funding for public schools. She is also against the new tax brackets created by the amendments at Joint Finance offered by Representative Dale Kooyenga. “If you make over three hundred thousand dollars, you would see a break of about one hundred twenty dollars a month in your taxes, however, the median family household which is right around fifty-four thousand dollars in Wisconsin would see less than ten dollars a month.” Wright believes the tax breaks are not targeted to the people that really need them. “We would like to see more relief for middle income families, so those middle income families are the ones that are working hard and doing all they can to get by, and people who already have economic advantages probably don’t need an extra two hundred dollars a month.”
Republicans removed a provision in the budget that would have restricted access by protesters on public lands near the Gogebic Taconite mining site in Iron and Ashland counties. Republican State Senator Tom Tiffany from Hazelhurst was a strong supporter of mining legislation. Now that Gogebic Taconite is drilling exploratory holes and being placed in danger by protesters, he’s disappointed these measures were stripped from the budget. “What we’re seeing in Wisconsin is the eco-terrorists have come here. When you go to the Earth First, which is an extremely radical group that calls themselves environmentalists which they’re not, they’re just an extreme preservationist group that will use any tactics. I’m very concerned about them being in Wisconsin and using violent measures to achieve their aim.”
GOP leaders also changed their minds about measures that would have let 750 additional Racine area residents get state vouchers to attend private schools.
The State Senate begins budget discussions Thursday morning.