Committee approves $76 billion Wisconsin budget

The Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Finance Committee meets Aug. 24, 2017, at the state Capitol in Madison. (WLUK/Courtney Ryan)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Latest on the Wisconsin state budget (all times local):

8:46 p.m.

The $76 billion Wisconsin budget is headed to the state Assembly and Senate for approval.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee passed the two-year spending plan Wednesday night on a party line vote, more than two months after the budget was due. Current spending levels have continued during the impasse.

The spending plan sends more aid to K-12 schools, increases funding for the University of Wisconsin System while freezing tuition and imposes new work and drug testing requirements on Medicaid recipients.

Republicans were unable to reach a long-term funding solution for roads, opting instead to borrow about $400 million more and increase fees on electric and hybrid car drivers.

The Assembly is expected to vote on it next week, followed quickly by the Senate.


7:50 p.m.

Republicans have voted to require the University of Wisconsin to monitor teaching workloads and develop policies rewarding those who teach more than average.

The Joint Finance Committee voted Wednesday to restore that provision to the budget that Gov. Scott Walker had recommended. UW President Ray Cross had urged the Legislature earlier this year not to dictate workload policies, saying campus administrators all had one in place already.

The language was added to the state budget in a final catch-all motion approved by the committee.

It also voted to prohibit all UW campuses from requiring that only faculty members, those granted tenure or academics with advanced degrees be considered for chancellor positions or UW president.


6:30 p.m.

The Legislature's Republican-controlled budget committee has voted to cut taxes for primarily wealthy taxpayers but not for the working poor.

The Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday rejected Gov. Scott Walker's call to increase a tax credit for the working poor by $20 million. The committee also voted to eliminate the state's alternative minimum tax, which is typically paid by people who earn between $200,000 and $500,000 a year. It also benefits about 50 millionaires.

That tax cut will cost about $7 million a year.

Democratic Rep. Katrina Shankland says Republicans are showing their priorities by helping millionaires and "kicking working families while they're down." Wisconsin is one of only six states with the tax and Republicans defended removing it, saying it would help clean up the tax code.


5:20 p.m.

The Legislature's Republican-controlled budget committee plans to eliminate the state's alternative minimum tax. The tax is typically paid by people who earn between $200,000 and $500,000 a year but also benefits millionaires.

The Joint Finance Committee was to vote Wednesday on eliminating the tax starting in the 2019 tax year. That is a $7 million tax cut for some of the state's wealthiest taxpayers.

Republicans have long targeted the tax for elimination. It is charged to people who have a large number of deductions and is higher than what they would otherwise pay.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that nearly 50 taxpayers who earned more than $1 million a year would benefit from the tax cut.

Democrats don't have the votes to stop it.


5 p.m.

Republicans plan to reject Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to increase a tax credit more than $20 million for the working poor.

Walker had proposed increasing the benefit for about 130,000 that he had cut in 2011. But the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday planned to vote down his proposal.

Walker had wanted to liberalize Earned Income Tax Credit benefits while also softening penalties under the program for newly married, dual income, couples. He had also called for increasing maximum benefits for low-income workers with one child.

Democrats assailed Walker when he and the Republican-led Legislature voted to cut the EITC in 2011. Walker's move to increase the benefits had won bipartisan support.

The committee plans to complete work on the budget late Wednesday.


4 p.m.

Property taxes paid by Wisconsin businesses would be cut by nearly $75 million under a Republican proposal that has been added to the state budget.

The proposal approved Wednesday by the Joint Finance Committee targets machinery, tools and patterns not considered manufacturing property under state law. Republican backers say the tax cut will primarily benefit smaller businesses and not large manufacturers.

Republicans say they decided to reduce business taxes rather than go along with Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to cut personal income taxes and waive sales taxes on back-to-school purchases once a year.

The tax cut was added to the $76 billion budget as the committee pushed to complete its work on the two-year spending plan.

The full Legislature could vote on the budget as soon as next week.


Attendance in a program that extends taxpayer funded vouchers to students with disabilities could be doubled under a Republican proposal approved Wednesday, one of the last changes being made to the $76 billion Wisconsin state budget before it's sent to the full Legislature for passage.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee approved the measure that would expand the special needs voucher program, which began in the 2016 school year. The committee made the change as it pushed to wrap up its work on the two-year spending plan later Wednesday or early Thursday.

The budget could pass the Assembly and Senate as early as next week -- swift action that comes after a two-month impasse that left Wisconsin as one of only two states without a budget despite a July 1 deadline to have one. Spending has continued at its pre-deadline levels, which has reduced pressure on the Republicans who control the Legislature to act quickly.

Other items up for a vote Wednesday include reducing a tax on property paid by businesses other than manufacturers by nearly $75 million a year, a move championed by the state's business community. The committee planned to reject Gov. Scott Walker's call to reduce personal income taxes on average of $44 per filer, as well as his proposal to institute a sales tax holiday for specified back to school purchases. It also planned to reject a cap on a popular tax credit used to pay for rehabilitation of historic property.

Democrats opposed expansion of the special needs voucher program, but didn't have the votes needed to prevail. The changes were approved on a party-line 12-4 vote.

"The voucher lobby continues to get their way in this Capitol," said Democratic Rep. Katrina Shankland, of Stevens Point. "This is just one more step in giving public money to private schools that are less accountable."

Supporters of the program say the vouchers help provide more options for disabled students and their families. But opponents, including Democrats and disability rights advocates, say the program diverts money to private voucher schools and students there won't receive the same legal protections they are guaranteed in public schools.

Last school year there were just over 200 students in the program, which cost their home public school districts $2.4 million. Students in the program this year, its second, have not yet been counted.

State aid follows the student to the private school to pay for their $12,000 voucher. Under changes before the committee, various program requirements would be softened to result in an estimated 250 additional students qualifying at a cost of $3.1 million more per-year to public schools. But Democrats worried that because there's no cap on what students could receive, based on their needs, the true cost is not known.

"We think it's an investment that's worth it," committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren said. "If you're the parent of that child, there's no price you can put on getting the education that they deserve."

Walker, a Republican facing re-election next year, has been working with GOP leaders in the Senate and Assembly to reach a budget deal that he can quickly sign. The Legislature is expected to make few changes to what the Joint Finance Committee approves, and Walker also has broad veto powers to shape the proposal.

Overall, the budget would increase funding for public schools and higher education, positives that Walker and legislative Republicans are certain to tout on the campaign trail next year. However, they were unable to reach a long-term funding solution for roads, opting instead to borrow about $400 million and to delay construction projects to get by for another two years.

Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the budget committee, said it would end with a roughly $200 million balance -- more than double the $82.7 million Walker had.

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