Local Republican lawmakers are praising — while Democrats are deriding — the state budget passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature this week.
The plan was passed by the Assembly late Tuesday night and was followed by quick passage by the Senate on Wednesday.
Republicans characterized the budget as a compromise on health care and benefit to education, while Democrats were critical about its failure to advance additional funding to programs such as Medicaid and special education.
Voting was along party lines, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats voting against it.
State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said he was proud to support a budget that “gives every taxpayer a tax cut” and that the majority of tax relief would go to taxpayers earning less than $125,000.
“Despite that tax cut, the Republican budget nearly doubles the size of Wisconsin’s rainy day fund, increases local road aids by 10 percent, matches Gov. Evers’ proposal for general school aids and matches Evers’ last three special education proposals by increasing reimbursement to 30 percent,” Waangard said.
“We invested in health care by providing more money for nursing homes, family care, medical assistance hospital payments and personal care workers — almost $400 million more than the governor. Republicans froze UW tuition, again keeping college affordable and eliminated the backlog of maintenance in state buildings.”
He called the governor’s budget impractical and one that put “critical safety nets” at risk for the next budget, which is expected to have “a $2 billion hole.”
State Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem Lakes, called the budget “a good compromise” that invests in roads, schools, water quality and health care and enables the state to live within its means.
“By protecting the priorities that my constituents wanted most, we were able to balance the budget, prevent tax increases and deliver a middle-class tax cut. We stretched the money that the state already has to do the most for Wisconsin without breaking the bank.
“I’m happy to have passed the Wisconsin budget that makes responsible, common-sense changes to Gov. Evers’ proposal which protect the priorities and pocketbooks of people all across the state,” she said.
Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, praised the budget as a taxpayer-friendly alternative to one proposed by Evers.
“The budget the Assembly passed tonight not only cuts taxes, but it keeps spending in line with taxpayers’ ability to pay,” said August. “In contrast, the budget proposed by Gov. Evers would have turned our massive surplus into a nearly $2 billion deficit while increasing taxes and fees by over $1 billion.”
August said the budget rejects Evers’ controversial proposals that would decriminalize marijuana, provide driver licenses and tuition breaks for illegal immigrants, expand welfare programs, remove drug testing requirements and give free internet to welfare recipients.
August said the budget “invests in Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure, including sizable increases in local road aids, without raising the gas tax.”
Local Democrats, who favored the governor’s proposal that called for a middle-class tax and expansion of Medicaid as its hallmark, said the budget passage was one of “missed opportunities.”
“They (Republicans) have missed the opportunity to bring $1.6 billion of federal money — money Wisconsinites have already paid in taxes — back to the state and cover 82,000 more of our friends and neighbors through the Medicaid expansion,” state Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, said.
State Rep. Tod Ohnstad, D-Kenosha, said the Republican majority rejected many of the key policies offered by Evers.
“The budget authored by Evers proposed a meaningful and sustainably funded middle-class tax cut. It reflected a true dedication toward education and investment in the future of our state.
“It began to once again fund our transportation and infrastructure needs with revenue derived from those who use these systems. It protected homeowners and small businesses from a property tax shift that benefits huge corporations. With an increase in the minimum wage, it gave the people of this state a much-needed raise.
“All of these are missed opportunities,” he said.
Ohnstad was especially critical of Republicans’ rejection of federal funds to expand Medicaid.
“We will foolishly continue paying more for less under the Republican proposal. Expansion would have brought an additional $63 million to Kenosha County for health-care programs ... and it would have covered 2,637 more people in our county. After their years of opposition, this ill-advised decision will have cost the state over a billion dollars through this year,” he said.
Ohnstad said, however, he remained “hopeful” that both parties could work together on a compromise for the remainder of the session to address many of the issues.
Wirch and state Rep. Tip McGuire, D-Kenosha, added that the budget failed to close the “dark stores” loophole which gives tax breaks to large commercial property owners.
Wirch said Republicans also failed to address the state’s roads.
“They missed an opportunity to come up with a sustainable solution to the problems with our roads and other transportation infrastructure. The people of Wisconsin spoke up in November 2018 by voting for Gov. Evers, saying these are priorities that we need to address. The Republican budget passed doesn’t do that.”
Restore education funding
Also on Wednesday, the Kenosha Education Association, the Kenosha Unified School District and the Kenosha Budget Justice Committee urged local legislators to call on the Legislature to reach a bipartisan agreement adding back some $900 million in funding to education, including $500 million in funding to special education.
Fulfilling the proposed 60 percent reimbursement rate for special education funding would mean $14.4 million in additional funding and resources for special education in Kenosha, they said in a joint statement.
“We are seeing people from across the aisle: urban, rural and suburban districts, school boards, administrators and unions, join together to advocate for a budget that works for our students,” newly elected KEA President Tanya Kitts-Lewinski said. “It is time for our legislators to do the same.”