MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Taxes would be cut across all income levels, with the wealthiest benefiting the most, and the University of Wisconsin would get nearly half a billion dollars less than it asked for under a Republican-authored two-year spending plan debated Wednesday in the state Senate.
Republicans who control the Senate were expected to reject all Democratic amendments and pass the budget late in the day.
The budget includes parts of a bipartisan compromise reached with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to increase funding for K-12 schools by $1 billion. Evers struck that deal with Republican legislative leaders as part of a larger package to boost funding for local governments by $1 billion, including giving Milwaukee county and city the option to raise local sales taxes to avoid bankruptcy.
Evers, Democratic lawmakers and others have pushed Republicans who control the Legislature to target the tax cuts to middle income earners, increase funding for UW and a K-12 school safety office and spend more on a pandemic-era child care program. But GOP leaders said on Tuesday they will not make any substantive changes to the budget.
Democrats hope Evers will make changes with his broad partial-veto power once the budget passes the Senate, followed by the Assembly on Thursday.
Evers has the option to veto the entire budget, which would require the Legislature to start over, a move he’s threatened to make if UW’s funding for diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs is cut.
Evers has not specified what he may veto.
The budget currently cuts UW funding by $32 million, the amount GOP leaders identified goes toward DEI staff salaries and programming. The university, which had asked for $435 million more, could get the $32 million cut back later if it shows it would go toward workforce development efforts. Republicans also refused to fund UW’s top building project priority, a new engineering facility on the Madison campus.
There have been pushes to make other changes to the budget.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, along with school and law enforcement leaders, have been urging Republicans to increase funding for the state’s school safety office. Federal funding runs out at the end of this year and Republicans refused to replace it with state money, a decision Kaul said will force a reduction in services unless other funding can be found to replace it.
Debate was impassioned at times.
Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee cursed at the conclusion of a speech she gave describing violence in her city and calls to increase the number of police in response to more crime in the suburbs.
Swearing by lawmakers during debate is not unprecedented, but it is unusual. The Republican Senate president did not rebuke Johnson, and the session continued.
Democrats and child care providers have also been lobbying to restore funding for a pandemic-era child care subsidy program that Republicans cut.
Democrats argued Wednesday that Republicans should have tapped a projected record surplus of $7 billion to make child care more affordable for the middle class, rather than cutting income taxes for the wealthy.
The state budget includes a $3.5 billion income tax cut for all taxpayers, a plan Democrats have derided because wealthy people will get a bigger reduction than lower earners.
“This tax scheme is the most irresponsible, fiscally reckless thing that Republicans could do with our one-time surplus,” Democratic Sen. Kelda Roys said at a news conference before the vote Wednesday.
Under the GOP plan, those who earn between $60,000 and $70,000 per year would get a tax cut on average of around $250. But those earning between $25,000 and $30,000 would get just $15 on average. Those who earn between $250,000 and $300,000 per year would get the biggest percentage drop, at over 17%, an average of $2,157.
The 11 wealthiest taxpayers in Wisconsin, who earn more than $75 million a year, would each receive a $1.8 million tax cut.
The budget would also increase pay for state employees, with a bigger boost for prison guards, dedicate $125 million to fighting water pollution caused by “forever chemicals” known as PFAS and increase electric vehicle registration fees.
Associated Press writer Harm Venhuizen contributed to this report.
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