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Finance panel pushes GOP tax cuts to full Senate, Assembly (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers began a last-minute attempt on Monday to pass a plan to reduce income taxes by $250 million, pushing the bill through the Legislature’s finance committee and setting up floor votes in the Senate and Assembly this week.

The proposal is moving with breathtaking speed as the GOP races to pass it before the Assembly adjourns its two-year session on Thursday. Republicans introduced the package on Friday and passed it out of the Joint Finance Committee on a 10-4 vote in a rare meeting on Monday. The vote clears the way for a Senate floor vote on Wednesday and an Assembly vote on Thursday.

The plan calls for increasing the standard deduction for income-tax filers, resulting in an average reduction of $106 for most filers in Wisconsin. Married couples filing jointly would see an average cut of $145. All other filers would see an average reduction of $81. The cut would affect about 64% of all filers, or about 2 million people. The plan would also reduce taxes for manufacturers by nearly $45 million by exempting their machinery and tools from property taxes and trim general state debt by $100 million.

Republicans would cover the lost revenue by tapping the state’s projected $620 million budget surplus.

All four Democrats on the finance committee voted against the proposal. They spent more than two hours ahead of the vote Monday in complaining that the plan is rushed and in trying to persuade Republicans to use the surplus to help public schools. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has proposed a $250 million school funding plan that includes a $130 million property-tax cut but Republicans have refused to consider it.

“Even when you have the money, you’re not going to do it,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, a Madison Democrat. “You’re not going to use the additional funds to help our kids.”

Republicans countered that the current state budget gives schools a $565 million boost. Evers wanted $1.4 billion but the GOP whittled that amount down in the final version of the spending plan.

Republicans took turns promising the tax cut package would help hard-working families and manufacturers.

“I’d call this whole package the economic stimulus package of 2020,” Republican Rep. Dan Knodl of Germantown, a bill sponsor, told the finance committee during a hearing ahead of the vote. “”I hope we can all celebrate together when we get this passed.”

Rep. Shannon Zimmerman of River Falls said he’ll be proud to put in his campaign literature that he gave retirees a tax break. He said teachers have to learn to live within a budget just like businesses and families.

“For me, the vote is green,” he said.

Republicans control the Assembly and Senate, making adoption all but certain. It’s unclear where Evers stands on the package, though. His spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, has declined to comment on whether the governor would sign any part of the plan into law.

The finance committee also approved a pair of bills Monday that would cut taxes for Wisconsin farmers by $30 million annually. The GOP introduced the bills after Evers put out $8.5 million worth of agriculture proposals.

The governor’s plan didn’t include any tax cuts, however. The Assembly could take up those bills this week.

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