Senate passes state budget
MADISON--The Wisconsin state budget that would cut income taxes for all taxpayers, allow private school vouchers to expand statewide and freeze tuition at the University of Wisconsin is now in the hands of Gov. Scott Walker.
The Senate passed the budget shortly after midnight Friday, following 12 hours of debate Thursday. Democrats, who didn’t have the votes to make any changes to the $70 billion spending plan, used a procedural move to block a final vote until Friday after arguing they had not had enough time to discuss the bill.
The Senate passed the budget on a 17-16 vote at 12:10 a.m., with Republican Sen. Dale Schultz joining all 15 Democrats against it. The Assembly passed it Wednesday on a 55-42 vote, with three Republicans and all Democrats against.
Walker has not indicated what he might veto out of the budget. Although lawmakers put their stamp on the plan, Walker still achieved his top priorities to reject a federally funded Medicaid expansion, cut income taxes and grow the voucher school program that currently exists only in Milwaukee and Racine.
Walker has said he intends to sign the bill into law by July 1.
The $650 million income tax cut was roughly double what Walker first proposed in February, thanks largely to an improvement in tax collection projections. The budget also nearly freezes property tax increases, another Walker priority, creates a bail bondsmen program, allows for the sale of public property like prisons and highways, and disallows residency requirements except for public safety workers within 15 miles of the city or local government where they work.
The budget also allows public school spending to increase $150 per student in each of the next two years, up from nothing under Walker’s original plan. Walker supported the changes as part of a deal brokered with Republican legislative leaders.
Republicans engaged Democrats in sometimes lively debate that continued nonstop — except for a brief interruption caused by protesters — from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Thursday.
Republicans defended the budget as putting the state on the right path toward improving the economy and creating jobs, protecting the poor, helping taxpayers with the income tax reduction and providing parents with more choices in where to send their children to school.
“The reforms in the budget will allow Wisconsin taxpayers to keep more of their money and spend it the way they choose,” said Republican Sen. Rob Cowles, a moderate who Democrats hoped would side with them.
Senate Democrats tried unsuccessfully to amend the budget 30 times, including rejecting the voucher expansion and accepting the federal Medicaid money under the health care overhaul, but they couldn’t muster enough votes even with Schultz sometimes joining them.
Democratic Minority Leader Chris Larson ended the debate by calling the budget an extreme attack on basic Wisconsin values. He said Democrats had hoped Republicans would join them to fight for more affordable health care, investing in public schools and creating jobs.
“We may not have won the battle today, I am confident with you all at my side we will win this war for Wisconsin’s middle-class families,” Larson said.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said Walker’s decision to reject the Medicaid expansion was motivated by furthering his conservative agenda and resume for a possible 2016 presidential run, not what makes sense for poor people in the state who need health care.
“Whether Scott Walker likes it or not, Obamacare is the law of the land,” Erpenbach said.
Schultz, of Richland Center, said during the debate he was voting against the budget because it was “too far removed from representing the interests of the common men and women I represent.”
Schultz joined with Democrats in trying to remove non-fiscal policy items from the budget, like one item that would require the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism to be removed from the UW-Madison campus.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Democrats’ complaints about policy items in the budget was “just ridiculous.” He ticked off a long list of policy included in the 2009 budget that passed under Democratic control, including requiring all motorists to have insurance.
“The hypocrisy of this body is just sometimes overwhelming,” Fitzgerald said. Debate was interrupted briefly Thursday afternoon by a coordinated demonstration, with protesters attempting to storm the floor, shouting “Focus on jobs, not vaginas!”
The Senate earlier this month passed several abortion-related bills, including one requiring women seeking abortions to first have an ultrasound.