Republicans pass budget in Joint Finance Committee

Republicans reach agreement on tax cuts, vouchers
Republicans pass budget in Joint Finance Committee

The state budget is on its way to the state Assembly for debate.

The plan passed by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday morning after an all-night session includes a $650 million income tax cut, expands private school vouchers statewide and rejects a federal Medicaid expansion.

Republicans passed the budget on a 12-4 party line vote.

It will be taken up first by the Republican-controlled Assembly in two weeks, then go to the Senate.

Republican Senate and Assembly leaders said they don’t believe any changes will be made to the plan before it’s passed.

Gov. Scott Walker has praised major parts of the plan, but he holds the power to veto individual items once it clears the Legislature.

In a statement, Walker said, “Cutting income taxes for middle-class families is one of those priorities, and I’m pleased the budget now includes a tax cut totaling nearly $1 billion for the hardworking taxpayers.”

After 10 hours behind closed doors, Republicans said they had reached an agreement that would double Gov. Scott Walker’s income tax cut and expand the voucher program statewide.

The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee reconvened at 1:24 a.m. and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said it was his intention to pass motions on taxes and education overnight. Democrats, saying “nothing good happens after midnight,” had asked the committee’s Republican leaders to recess until 9 a.m.

The Republican agreement would double the size of Walker’s proposed income tax cut to about $680 million. It would lower taxes in all income tax brackets and reduce the number of brackets from five to four.

“No matter what you earn in Wisconsin, as long as you’re paying income taxes, you’ll see a reduction based on the actions we’re taking,” said Rep. Robin Vos, the Assembly’s speaker.

Walker’s proposal would have saved the average family of four that earns $80,000 a year about $100 annually, reports indicated.

The Republican agreement struck early Wednesday would also expand the private school voucher program statewide, instead of only the nine districts — including Madison and Beloit — that Walker had called for.

The legislative proposal would cap enrollment in the voucher program at 500 in 2013-14, and 1,000 every year thereafter. Walker’s proposal had allowed for unlimited enrollment after the second year.

“Overnight, we have supersized voucher schools in this state,” said Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse. “This is vouchers on steroids.”

Republicans pushed the tax and education motions forward overnight, despite objections from Democrats who are outnumbered on the committee 12 to four.

“We’re asking in good faith to recess until (Wednesday morning),” said Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine. “And be able to do this in the light of day instead of the cover of darkness.”

Republicans pass budget in Joint Finance Committee

The Republican proposal would also increase per-pupil funding by $150 for public schools in each of the next two years. It was something people were concerned about across the state, Republican leaders said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he planned to take up the budget deal as-is. Vos said the same.

“I feel quite confident that we can get more than 50 votes, and I’m really optimistic about getting 60,” Vos said. “I don’t think we’re going to need to make changes because all of the members have been involved in the process right here in Joint Finance.”

After passage in committee, the budget would still need approval in the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate.

Stay with WISC-TV and Channel3000.com for continuing coverage of the budget vote.