Assembly Passes Wisconsin State Budget — Now To the Senate

By: Maayan Silver 6/26/19

Wisconsin's next biennial budget is now in the hands of the state Senate. That’s after the Republican-led Assembly approved the spending plan Tuesday night, on a party-line vote of 60 to 39.

Democrats were unsuccessful in efforts to amend the budget. But Assembly Republicans made some changes, in an attempt to make the proposal more palatable to skeptical colleagues in the Senate.

The 31 GOP amendments include one that slightly reduces property tax increases and another that would give counties more prosecutors.

The budget approved by the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee was a rewrite of the spending plan that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers unveiled in February. On the first day the panel met in May, it stripped dozens of Evers’ proposals, including a Medicaid expansion, the legalization of medical marijuana and a minimum wage increase.

As the Assembly debated the budget Tuesday, Republican Speaker Robin Vos defended the GOP decisions. For instance, he says the proposed Medicaid expansion would have trapped people in poverty. Vos says it would have made them dependent on government, something he says only appeals to the left wing.

“But on the Republican side of the aisle, we want people to be dependent on themselves," said Vos. "We want you and your family to be able to live your own life, making your own choices. If you fall on hard times, we want to help you short-term to help you get back on your feet. We don’t want you to live a life dependent on a bureaucrat giving you a check.”

But Assembly Democrats could not wrap their heads around why GOP lawmakers wanted to reject the Medicaid expansion. They say the choice has fiscal consequences for every corner of the state.

State Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, argues if the state took the Medicaid money from the federal government, perhaps lawmakers wouldn’t have to hike vehicle title and registration fees to pay for road improvements.

"What is conservative about saying no to a billion dollars in federal tax revenue so that it can go to subsidize health care in other states that have expanded Medicaid?" asked Goyke. "What is conservative about saying Wisconsin drivers will shoulder 100% of the costs of fixing our roads and we’ll let Illinois drivers off the hook?”

State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Portage, focused on another issue: education. She criticizes Republicans for cutting Evers’ proposed increases to K-12 funding, including for special education.

Shankland spoke about the march from Palmyra to the capitol — about 60 miles — that wrapped up Tuesday. She says public education advocates are tired of settling for scraps.

"[They marched] 5 dozen miles to the Wisconsin State Capitol because they didn’t think that the public education budget was enough, Mr. Speaker. And after years of fiscal underfunding from the Republicans, they wanted more," she said.

But Republicans remained confident in their choices, arguing there was some compromise in the budget. Joint Finance Committee Co-Chair John Nygren says the panel approved many of Evers’ proposals — albeit a bit different than what was originally proposed. For instance, he says they’re giving him another opportunity to approve a middle-class tax cut.

“When I recap the different positive impacts this budget makes, I believe that Governor Evers needs to step up and sign this budget into law," said Nygren. "We are in an era of divided government. Neither side gets 100% of what they want.”

The Senate is set to vote on the budget Wednesday. GOP Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald may have to convince potential holdouts in his caucus to get on board.

A few senate Republicans have said they wouldn’t vote for the budget because it spends too much. The Republican version of the budget would increase spending by 5.6%. One GOP senator says he hopes to limit the increase to about 2%.

If the Senate approves the budget, the spending plan will head to Evers — who can approve it, reject it, or make changes through partial vetoes.