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Wisconsin budget panel approves technical college increase (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee approved more money for Wisconsin’s technical colleges on Thursday, but fell $11 million short of what Gov. Tony Evers and Democrats wanted to spend.

The Joint Finance Committee is working on making changes to Evers’ budget before the full Republican-controlled Legislature votes on the two-year spending plan, likely sometime in June. Evers has threatened to veto the entire budget if Republicans alter it too much from what he proposed.

Democrats, in line with Evers’ latest proposal, proposed increasing funding for technical colleges by $36 million and having half of the money come from a $753 million budget surplus. Instead, because of the proposal Republicans approved on Thursday, technical colleges will get $25 million more over two years.

Democrats argued that was not enough, pointing to the 30 percent reduction in spending on technical colleges that was approved in 2011. Other than a 6 percent increase allowed in 2014, spending on technical colleges has not risen since then. Republicans said they were being fiscally responsible and spending what the state could afford.

Technical College System President Morna Foy praised the $25 million increase, calling it a “powerful statement of support for Wisconsin’s technical college students and the employers anxious to hire them.”

Republicans also voted to increase spending on workforce development by about $12.5 million. The day before, Evers had called for a $15 million increase.

Rep. John Nygren, the Republican co-chairman of the committee, said Republicans planned to increase funding for technical colleges and workforce development even before news of the budget surplus came Wednesday.

Nygren said Assembly Republicans’ priorities for the $753 million surplus were reducing taxes, paying down debt and saving for an economic downturn. That differs from Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who said he wanted to use some of the money to pay for roads and capital building projects.

Nygren said it was too early to say what tax cuts Republicans may get behind. Repealing the personal-property tax, an issue that’s been discussed for years, has support from some Assembly Republicans, he said.

Evers has already used $56 million of the surplus to pay down state debt. He called for saving the rest, outside of $33 million for technical colleges and workforce development. Democrats on the budget committee said they agree with Evers’ plan.

Republicans also earmarked $5 million for youth apprenticeship programs.

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