Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

June 6, 2017

Amid state budget impasse, Wisconsin Senate leaders mull going it alone

Filed under: Legislation,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 11:21 am

MOLLY BECK, MARK SOMMERHAUSER and MATTHEW DeFOUR Wisconsin State Journal 6/6/2017

 

State Senate leaders on Monday raised the prospect of crafting their own state budget instead of working with the Assembly through the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee — a fresh sign of the growing budget divide among statehouse Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told reporters this week’s talks on the 2017-19 spending plan could prove pivotal.

With less than a month left to the state budget deadline, GOP Senate and Assembly leaders and Gov. Scott Walker are at an impasse over how to spend money on schools, address taxes and plug a shortfall in the state’s roads budget of nearly $1 billion.

Fitzgerald said he hopes to avoid writing a separate budget from the Assembly. But, he said, “we’re in a rougher spot than I thought we were” if the budget committee doesn’t meet this week as Fitzgerald said he’s urging its members to do.

“Then it becomes a full discussion for the full Senate caucus as to where we’re going to proceed,” Fitzgerald said.

Speaking earlier in the day, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, budget committee co-chairman, said it remains to be seen if the panel will meet this week.

The typical state budget process starts with the governor’s proposal. It then goes to JFC, the state’s budget-writing committee, which adds and subtracts from his proposal. Sixteen lawmakers from both houses comprise the committee in an effort to find common ground and to build consensus between the two houses before the full Legislature votes on the budget bill.

July 1 is the deadline to have a new budget in place. If lawmakers and the governor fail to agree on one by then, current spending levels would carry over into the new fiscal year.

Fitzgerald said it would be “pretty easy” for Senate Republicans to develop their own budget. On two of the most high-profile topics, transportation and education, the Senate and Walker are aligned, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald signaled his patience for budget talks is waning and he doesn’t want the process to continue into the new fiscal year.

“I want this budget done by 1 July,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve had more than enough time to debate and discuss this budget.”

Responding to the possibility the Senate would finish writing its own budget based largely on Walker’s blueprint, Nygren said: “Is that waving the white flag that they don’t have ideas? I don’t know.”

Assembly crafted K-12 spending plan

The separate-budget idea surfaced on Friday after Assembly Republicans released their own proposal on school spending late last week, which was immediately rejected by Senate Republicans who want to work with Gov. Scott Walker’s schools proposal.

“It can be done,” Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills and co-chairwoman of the budget committee, said Monday of writing a separate budget. “I hope we don’t have to do that.”

Walker said in an interview Monday with the Wisconsin State Journal that the “good news” is the Senate GOP caucus is “clearly on board” with his proposal, but he acknowledged what ultimately is passed could change.

“My hope would be that in the end, it certainly doesn’t have to be 100 percent like what I proposed, but that to me having more money for schools and more relief for property taxpayers are certainly two priorities for us that we’re going to keep pushing for,” Walker said.

Some GOP lawmakers have previously discussed separating transportation from the larger budget process. Nygren said any additional talks about breaking from the normal budget process “are news to me.”

The Assembly K-12 spending proposal called for, among other things, a smaller increase in the amount of money schools receive on a per-student basis.

But the “linchpin” of the proposal, Nygren said, is a provision that allows some school districts to raise more in property taxes, about $92 million, to pay for schools. Those districts are typically those that were spending less than the state average when revenue caps were instituted in 1993.

Darling said Friday that provision would be very difficult to do without new money to pay for it because Walker has said he won’t support a budget that raises property taxes above 2014 levels.

More details about the Assembly’s proposal will be released on Tuesday, Nygren said.

Several disagreements

The education proposal was the latest in a string of budget provisions Republicans in both houses have been unable to come to agreement on. How to fund roads, how much to lower property taxes and whether to self-insure state workers have also divided Walker and legislators.

Nygren said one of the biggest challenges has been the governor’s pledge to lower property taxes on a median-value home below what they were in 2014. Assembly Republicans have only committed to property taxes being lower than in 2016.

Additionally, many Republicans want to eliminate the personal property tax, which primarily affects businesses. Doing so would reduce funding for municipalities and school districts by $261 million a year. Some lawmakers want to get rid of Walker’s proposed income tax cut and reimburse local governments for the lost revenue.

Walker acknowledged in the interview Monday that the budget likely won’t be finished by the end of June. He noted that’s not unusual — the last state budget wasn’t signed until July 12.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Monday that schools can’t afford less money than what Walker proposed.

“Our schools can’t afford to shoulder more cuts while wealthy special interests benefit from massive tax giveaways,” she said in a statement.

Secret wrap-up budget motion not dead

Nygren said he expects the finance committee to once again employ a wrap-up, or “999,” budget motion at the close of this year’s budget-crafting process.

“It’s our intent to keep it limited as much as possible,” Nygren said.

Some key lawmakers said last month that in this budget, they were working to block use of the controversial maneuver, deployed in the past to add major policy changes to the state budget at the last minute with little or no public scrutiny. It was what lawmakers used two years ago just before the July 4 weekend to try to drastically limit public access to government records.

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