Republicans in the state Assembly approved increasing spending on town roads and other last-minute changes to the state budget on Tuesday to appease skeptical conservatives, saying their proposals are fiscally responsible and should be signed into law by Gov. Tony Evers.
Among other things, the changes were meant to slightly reduce a projected property-tax increase, give towns an additional $5 million for roads and “veto-proof” a provision that could make it easier for quarries to operate in Wisconsin.
Evers and his fellow Democrats haven’t enough votes to stop or change the budget but have said that the plan falls short of what’s needed to provide health care to more people, repair the state’s roads and adequately pay for schools.
Following the Assembly’s approval of the budget on Tuesday, the Senate was to take the plan up on Wednesday. The budget would then go to Evers, who has broad powers to make changes using partial vetoes. He has also threatened to take the unprecedented step of vetoing the entire budget and forcing lawmakers to start over.
The GOP-written budget would pump an additional $437 million into roads as part of a transportation budget that calls for the lowest amount of borrowing in years. Republicans want to increase spending on highway building by 7.3%, or $186.5 million, in the next biennium, whereas Evers has proposed raising highway spending by 8.8%, or $226 million. An amendment would also set aside an additional $5 million for town roads, giving local governments $2.5 million in each of the next two years.
Evers and Republicans also differ over how they would pay for roads. The Democratic governor had proposed increasing the state’s gas tax. Republicans, in contrast, want to raise vehicle-title fees and other charges.
“This is a good budget,” said state Rep. John Nygren, a Republican and a chairman of the state’s budget-writing committee. “This is a budget that is for all of Wisconsin and I am very proud to say this is a budget Governor Evers should sign into law.”
The current budget runs through Sunday, but state government would not shut down if there were a stalemate. Instead, current spending levels would continue until the next two-year budget is enacted, however long that takes.
One of the changes Assembly Republicans made would replace the phrases “may not” and “shall not” with “cannot” throughout the budget, making it difficult for Evers to use his partial-veto powers to thwart the intentions of Republicans. Evers has the power to strike individual words from the budget, a step both Republican and Democratic governors have taken in the past to undo the will of the Legislature.
Such a change, if eventually adopted, could protect Republican-sponsored proposals meant to make it harder for local governments to regulate quarries. A lack of quarries in Wisconsin is often blamed for driving up the cost of materials that go into roads, making such projects more expensive.
In an amendment to the budget, lawmakers have put forward replacement language meant to limit local governments’ ability to regulate quarries that supply materials to both public-works and private construction projects.
Yet another amendment would let the Wisconsin Center District borrow an additional $100 million, a change that could help finance an expansion of the 20-year-old convention center in downtown Milwaukee.
The center district, which is publicly funded through hotel room taxes and other fees, began considering a $250 million overhaul earlier this spring.
Still another amendment would allow Wisconsin counties to apply to the state building commission for a grant to help pay for a private construction project. The amendment would direct $3 million from a $25 million pool of grant money to help a nonprofit group convert the former Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune building into a project with a rooftop restaurant and microbrewery. Gov. Tony Evers had included $3 million for the project in his capital budget.
Republicans also want to reduce income taxes by about $450 million. That would reduce income taxes by $75 a person on average in 2019 and $136 in 2020. Evers, in contrast, had proposed an even bigger income-tax cut, one to be paid for by nearly eliminating a tax credit provided to manufacturers.
The last-minute Republican amendment would reduce the property-tax increase that’s expected to fall on the typical owner of a median-valued home, taking it down by by $5 over the next two years. That would make the combined increase on the owner of a roughly $174,000 home $99 over two years, instead of $104, as the budget proposed by both Evers and the budget committee was expected to result in.
One provision to be added to the budget would allow the electric-car manufacturer Tesla to sell its vehicles directly to customers in Wisconsin. Republican Sen. Chris Kapenga has been pushing for the law change for two years.
Supporters argue that allowing Tesla to open dealerships in the state would give customers more choices and help foster competition in the free market. But opponents say it could put other car manufacturers, who are prohibited from operating their own dealerships, at a disadvantage.
– The Associated Press contributed to this articleFollow @natebeck9