By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The state Senate has passed what is being described as the most conservative budget in a generation. Now, will arguably the most liberal governor in Wisconsin history sign it?
Three Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley of Mason, joined all Republicans in the 23-9 vote on Wednesday evening, a day after the Republican-led Assembly passed the budget bill with four Dems riding along.
The liberals in more vulnerable districts cast their affirmative votes while holding their noses and moaning about the billions of dollars more they and Gov. Tony Evers wanted.
Republicans, with a sizeable majority in both houses, rebuilt Evers’ bloated budget proposal from the ground up, tossing out hundreds of leftwing non-policy items and the Dems’ Medicaid expansion plan. Thanks to a projected $4.4 billion more than expected in tax revenue, conservatives constructed an $87.5 billion, two-year budget with about $3.4 billion in tax relief. The budget checks in about $3.7 billion less than Evers wanted, with less than 2 percent spending growth.
“The full Legislature has now passed the most conservative budget in a generation turning Governor Evers’ bloated, political document into a responsible, bi-partisan success story for our state,” said Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg).
When the smoke cleared on the Joint Finance Committee’s budget production, Dems really had little to complain about. They complained anyway. As LeMahieu pointed out, the budget makes targeted investments in schools, health care and transportation. While Evers wanted north of $1 billion more for K-12 education, the Republican budget raises the state’s funding share to two-thirds, a level Democrats have been demanding for years. It does so while demanding Evers and schools use the billions of federal dollars at their disposal to bolster education spending.
The final draft got buy-in from fiscal hawks. Unprecedented tax relief — $2.5 billion-plus in income tax reductions and $650 million in combined property tax decreases over the next two years — was a pretty effective sales pitch.
“The income tax reduction is a significant step toward making the flat tax a reality,” said Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield).
With one fell swoop, the budget eliminates an entire middle-income tax bracket and the burdensome personal property tax on business that has been on Wisconsin’s books since before Wisconsin was a state.
Before the roll call vote, Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) declared the Republican-written budget is not the “people’s budget.”
“It leaves Wisconsin behind. It does not nurture the individuals that we need to in order to change our outcomes,” Taylor said.
The budget, conservatives say, takes a big step back from the “nurturing” liberal policies Evers has pushed — policies that expand the role of government in the lives of people.
It now moves to Evers’ desk. He has threatened to veto the whole thing, as he seethes over his opponents’ re-write of the original Evers tax-and-spend plan.
The Republican budget effectively corners the governor. If he doesn’t sign it, Wisconsin runs the risk of losing billions of dollars in federal COVID relief aid, let alone about $1,200 in tax savings for the average Wisconsin family.
“Right now, Governor Evers and his administration are looking for vetoes to help his far-left campaign backers and those who prefer to collect unemployment than interview for one of the thousands of available jobs across Wisconsin,” said Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin).
“The transformational tax relief in our budget is the right answer for Wisconsin. Governor Evers should not veto the incredible tax cuts we’re sending his way — doing so would dig his own political grave,” Bradley added.