By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans finished their work on the state budget Wednesday, moving the $87 billion spending plan through the Senate and on to Gov. Tony Evers.
The Senate passed the massive bill on a 23-9 vote after about five hours of debate. Three Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the budget — Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, Jeff Smith and Brad Pfaff.
The Assembly passed it Tuesday night. Evers introduced the budget in February; Republican lawmakers have been working on revisions since May.
The centerpiece of the two-year budget is a GOP-authored plan to cut $3.3 billion in income and property taxes, a move made possible by the state’s unprecedented $4.4 billion surplus.
Also inside the current budget are:
- $1.5 billion in funding for state building projects, which is roughly $810 million less than what Evers wanted. The UW System would get about $629 million, down from the $1 billion Evers put forward.
- More money for vocational training for the disabled, and youth and adult apprentice programs with the goal of addressing the state’s worker shortage problem. However, Republicans rejected Evers’ call to spend $15 million to improve the system for administering unemployment payments. Republicans said Evers can use federal stimulus money for that.
- Broadband expansion would get $125 million, which is less than the roughly $200 million Evers proposed. The money would also be borrowed rather than paid with cash, as Evers proposed.
- Authorization for the start of the oft-delayed Interstate 94 expansion project in Milwaukee County, as Evers wanted. State funding for transit programs was cut in half in Milwaukee and Madison, but Republicans said that was because those Democratic strongholds are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief money.
Republicans erased literally hundreds of Evers’ proposals from the spending plan, including legalizing marijuana, restoring union rights for state workers and raising the minimum wage.
Debate began in the Senate around 3 p.m. Wednesday. Republicans touted their tax cuts, calling them historic. Democrats slowed the proceedings with long speeches lambasting Republicans for eliminating Evers’ priorities. Sen. Chris Larson, a Milwaukee Democrat, accused Republicans of choosing to impose tax cuts rather than funding schools even though the state is flush with cash.
“(Republicans are) kicking the dust in the faces of our kids who have fallen further behind,” he said.
Sen. Dale Kooyenga, a Brookfield Republican, countered that the budget doesn’t cut education funding and schools are set to receive “jaw-dropping” amounts of federal aid.
“I think this is a responsible budget,” he said.
Evers will have six days excluding Sundays to take action on the budget once it reaches his desk. He could sign the budget into law, use his partial veto powers to rewrite the document more to his liking — he can strike words but can’t add any — or veto the entire plan, although that’s unlikely. If he does nothing during that window, the budget automatically becomes law.
Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said Wednesday that the administration was reviewing the spending plan as passed by the Assembly.
She pointed to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo that said if Evers vetoed the entire budget the state would lose the $2.6 billion in federal pandemic relief aid for schools, a possible signal that Evers isn’t considering such a move.
No governor has vetoed the entire budget since 1931.