The state Assembly on Tuesday advanced a series of special session proposals from Governor Scott Walker, including a bill that would cut state income and property taxes by about $504 million. The tax cut proposal still faces an uncertain future though, with Republicans in the state Senate still short of the votes needed to pass it in its current form.
The Assembly spent nearly five hours debating the bill, which included attempts by Democrats to redirect the bill to the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee and to amend the legislation with their own tax cut proposal. Majority Republicans defeated those efforts, eventually passing the package on a 62-37 bipartisan vote.
State Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) was among Democrats who argued the tax cut proposal is irresponsible, and that the state’s middle class and low-income residents would benefit more from increased spending on education and jobs programs. Mason said Walker’s proposal gives the top 20 percent of earners almost half the resources provided in the bill, while sending only about five percent of the cuts to the bottom 20 percent, making it a bill that “redistributes money, and favors the wealthy.”
Republicans argued the money came from taxpayers and should go back to them. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) says that’s the best way to help the state economy improve by putting more money in the hands of working people, which will help create more jobs and grow the economy.
While the Assembly has been pushing for quick action on the bill, Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) continued to voice frustrations with the ways the chamber has been handling the debate on the package. Major financial bills typically go through the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, but Assembly Republicans sent the tax cuts through normal standing committees instead leading up to Tuesday’s vote. Fitzgerald called that “infurating” because JFC is where the expertise lies that’s needed to craft a compromise. He says Tuesday’s vote in the Assembly “doesn’t seem productive,” when the chamber will likely have to be back in a few weeks debating the same bill.
Speaker Vos continued to defend Tuesday’s Assembly vote, saying his chamber was not content to wait for the Senate to start acting on the proposed tax cuts. Vos says “this is way too important for us to not move it as expeditiously as possible,” also noting that action in his chamber helped gets discussions moving in the Senate. Fitzgerald countered Tuesday that those talks were going on even before Governor Walker unveiled the plan in his State of the State address last month, and he doesn’t believe his members are “feeling the pressure yet.”
Governor Walker and Assembly Republicans have said they are open to changes to special session bills that will deal with concerns about an increase in the structural deficit, as long as they leave the income and property tax cuts intact.