Area legislators are split along party lines in their support for the 2019-21 state budget approved along party lines by the Republican-controlled Legislature last week.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is expected to act on the budget in coming days. He has the most powerful line-item veto authority in the country, meaning he can reject individual provisions of the budget. He has not yet said what changes he will make.
Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, said Republicans “blew it” by nixing Evers’ proposal to expand Medicaid to the full amount allowed under the Affordable Care Act.
Doing so would have provided health care coverage to an estimated 82,000 Wisconsinites and saved the state more than $324 million, Ringhand said.
Ringhand also slammed Republicans for providing less school funding than Evers had proposed and not doing enough to offer more tax relief.
“In the end, this budget will be remembered as a tremendous opportunity squandered,” she said.
Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, is the vice chairwoman of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, which amended Evers’ budget before sending it to the Legislature. She lauded the budget, pointing to increased funding to help counties pay for court-appointed attorneys for people who can’t afford representation.
She also praised the budget for boosting local road aid by 10% and the local road improvement program by $90 million.
“Transportation is probably the issue my office hears about most,” Loudenbeck said. “This investment in transportation is a great step in the right direction and will really go a long way to help fixing our aging infrastructure.”
Loudenbeck also likes that the budget raises the hourly rate for private attorneys who take on cases assigned by the State Public Defender’s Office, from $40 to $70.
That’s something Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, also supports.
Kolste applauded the budget for increasing funding for the Wisconsin Technical College System. But she said she did not support waiving proposals to expand Medicaid and close the so-called “dark store loophole,” which critics say allows big-box retailers to pay less in property taxes.
Rep. Don Vruwink, D-Milton, said he supports increasing defense attorney hourly pay, the transportation funding hike and a 14.7% boost to the state Department of Workforce Development.
He called the decision not to expand some Medicaid reimbursement rates a “missed opportunity,” however. And he said he wished the budget had restored two-thirds state funding for public schools, which Evers had proposed.
“Even though more money was provided for special education, the budget ... doesn’t supply schools the funding they need to provide adequate mental health services,” Vruwink said.
Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, praised the budget for being “fundamentally formed” by Evers. He said Evers’ leadership led to more funding for schools, technical colleges, the UW System and health care.
Like most Democrats, Spreitzer said the “biggest shortfall” of the budget was canceling the Medicaid expansion. He said he also was disappointed funding for the UW tuition freeze and for replacing lead pipes wasn’t included.
“While this budget fell short of what it could and should have been, there is no question that legislative Republicans were building a budget on Gov. Evers’ terms because of the broad public support,” Spreitzer said.
Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, said Evers “never bothered to engage in negotiations,” but the Legislature successfully crafted a budget he would sign anyway.
August said he wished the budget had cut taxes more, but he praised it for providing a wage increase for personal care workers.
“The budget that passed the Legislature not only cuts taxes, but it keeps spending in line with taxpayers’ ability to pay,” August said. “In contrast, the budget proposed by Governor Evers would have turned our massive surplus into a nearly $2 billion deficit while increasing taxes and fees by over $1 billion.”
Sen. Steve Nass, R-La Grange, was one of two Senate Republicans who voted against the budget. In a statement the day of the vote, Nass called Evers’ original budget proposal “the most horrible document offered in three decades.”
Still, he said Republicans crafted a budget with “excessive and unsustainable spending levels” that fail to live up to conservative fiscal principles.
Nass’ key objections: The budget generates a net statewide property tax increase of about 3%, authorizes $37.7 billion in total general fund expenditures and raises vehicle title and registration fees.
A story on page 3A on Wednesday incorrectly characterized Rep. Amy Loudenbeck's support for transportation funding in the 2019-21 state budget. She praised the budget for boosting local road aid by 10% and the local road improvement program by $90 million.