More than two months after it was supposed to have been signed by the governor, Wisconsin’s proposed biennial state budget passed a crucial hurdle Wednesday night as the Joint Finance Committee completed its work on the plan.
Lawmakers acted on a wide range of tax provisions, which include eliminating the state’s alternative minimum tax, creating a $75 million personal property tax exemption for non-manufacturing machinery, and several additional tax exemptions for everything from broadcast equipment to bee-keeping supplies. The Republican-controlled panel also approved the expansion of a program that provides vouchers to help disabled students attend private schools.
Democrats argued many of the provisions approved Wednesday night at the Capitol would hurt struggling working families in the state, while providing tax breaks to millionaires and providing benefits to special interests. “I’m struggling to find where in this document are the policies that help working families get ahead,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point).
Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) described the budget as full of missed opportunities, with Republicans failing to act on plans that could have expanded access to broadband internet, college tuition assistance, and a long-term fix to the state’s transportation funding issues. “There are all sorts of things we could have done, and the missed opportunities in this budget are frustrating,” he said.
Republicans contend the budget is a responsible approach to state spending. “I think this budget puts a lot of reform in to moving Wisconsin forward,” said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), a co-chair of the panel. “It invests in education tremendously, it helps the developmentally disabled, it works to help our most needy people get an education and have the American dream.”
Other additions to the budget approved Wednesday include restoring a requirement that the University of Wisconsin System track the workloads of faculty and other academic staff on campuses. It also adopted a provision that would prohibit UW institutions from adopting policies that would require candidates for top administrative positions to have an academic background.
The panel did remove several provisions Governor Scott Walker had proposed in his budget, including $203 million in income tax cuts, an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping.
The committee’s action on the budget sends it to the full Legislature for consideration. The Assembly is expected to act first on the plan, which it will take up next week.