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Committee passes Walker’s $504M tax cut bill

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker’s half-billion dollar tax cut plan passed a state Assembly committee Thursday, despite objections from Democrats, and even some Republicans, that the proposal was moving too quickly and in need of changes.

The Assembly plans to vote Tuesday on the property and income tax cut proposal and another Walker-backed measure to spend $35 million on worker training. But the Senate is moving more slowly, continuing to discuss the proposals behind closed doors before sending them to the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.

Though Republicans control both the Senate and Assembly, their leaders are bickering over how quickly to vote on the tax cuts and worker training funds made possible by a budget surplus that’s $912 million more than anticipated.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wants to move quickly, while Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said his members want to discuss other options that wouldn’t result in increasing by $100 million a shortfall for the budget that begins in mid-2015.

Vos and Fitzgerald met with Walker on Wednesday. Fitzgerald told reporters Thursday that the governor and speaker seem open to changes.

Senate Republicans are discussing whether to move money Walker wanted to put into the state’s rainy day fund toward paying down the state’s project budget shortfall, Fitzgerald said. The $406 million property tax cut proposal, which would save the owner of a median-valued home about $131 this year, will likely be unchanged, Fitzgerald said.

Democrats, without enough votes to stop the tax cuts, are also raising concerns about moving too fast and not fully understanding the ramifications of spending the surplus on property tax cuts and $98 million in income tax reductions.

“This budget spends our surplus like a drunken sailor,” said Democratic Rep. Brett Hulsey, of Madison, during committee discussion. “It’s irresponsible.”

But Republican backers, echoing the argument made by Walker when he unveiled the tax cuts two weeks ago, said the money should be returned to taxpayers.

“When there’s a surplus, these are overcharged taxes,” said Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin. “The big picture is this: We have an opportunity to return overtaxation to the citizens of the state.”

The Assembly’s Jobs, Economy and Mining Committee voted 8-6 along party lines to pass the tax cut bill. Fitzgerald has said the Senate won’t take it up until the budget committee votes on it. That panel is made up of 16 lawmakers, eight from each house, and is typically the first stop for such bills.

Democrats expressed hope Thursday that changes could be made in the budget committee to address both their concerns and those raised by Senate Republicans.

Also Thursday, Democrats on the Assembly’s Workforce Development Committee said they wanted the $35 million worker training bill to specify how the money would be spent.

As it stands, money given to the Department of Workforce Development is to be spent on eliminating technical college waiting lists for high-demand fields, helping high school students get trained for high-demand jobs through dual enrollment programs and supporting programs that help people with disabilities find work.

The bill does not say how much money would go to each area, or what exactly it would be spent on.

“I wish there was more accountability about what was going to happen to this money and when,” said Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire.

Republicans defended the approach, saying the Legislature shouldn’t micromanage allocation of the money. They also said DWD was working closely with the technical colleges and disability rights community on that exact issue. Reggie Newson, DWD secretary, sent a letter Tuesday to disability rights groups outlining where grants would be directed, but no dollar amounts were specified.

Spokesmen for both Walker and DWD did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The committee passed the bill 11-3, with three Democrats joining all eight Republicans in support.

Associated Press writer Todd Richmond also contributed to this report.

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