MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans see the state budget headed for passage next week as full of good news for them to campaign on next year, while Democrats are focusing in on some last-minute tax cut changes to argue the GOP doesn’t care about the middle class.
The $76 billion spending plan lays out the priorities of Walker and fellow Republicans who control the Legislature and is the foundation of what those up for re-election next year will have to defend.
There’s plenty for Republicans to like, including $639 million more for public K-12 schools, a University of Wisconsin tuition freeze and no gas tax increase. But Democrats on Thursday were keying in on decisions made this week to punt on a long-term funding solution for Wisconsin’s deteriorating roads and elimination of a tax paid primarily by the wealthy, including millionaires.
“Can you say out of touch?” said Democrat Tony Evers, the state superintendent who is among those running to take on Walker next year. “Instead of working to invest and build Wisconsin’s middle class … legislative Republicans doubled-down on tax breaks for those who do not need it and, to pay for it, they eliminated tax breaks for those who need it most.”
And Democratic state Rep. Dana Wachs, who is also running for governor, called the budget “fiscally irresponsible” and “an assault on local control.” Wachs also panned the budget for borrowing $400 million to pay for road construction projects, but not coming up with enough money to pay for work along Interstate 94 in Milwaukee and elsewhere across the state.
The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted this week to reject Walker’s proposed income tax cut, which would have saved most taxpayers on average of $44 a year. The committee also rejected Walker’s call to increase a tax credit for the working poor. Additionally, the committee turned down Walker’s proposal to eliminate the sales tax one weekend a year on the purchase of back-to-school supplies.
At the same time, the panel eliminated the alternative minimum tax, which is paid by fewer than 1,800 taxpayers. But ending it would primarily benefit those who make over $200,000.
Even with those changes, Republicans say they will have an easy time defending a budget that helps out public schools, sends more money to UW and holds the line on property taxes. It also cuts taxes on small businesses.
“This is by far the best budget to run on since I came into office,” said Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, who was first elected in 2010, the same year as Walker. Steineke noted that the budget has been far less contentious than others from Walker, including his first that took away collective bargaining from public workers and cut K-12 funding and one two years ago that slashed UW funding by $250 million.
Republican Rep. Joel Kleefisch, who is married to Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, said “tough decisions” in past budgets made it possible to spend more money on education in the current one. He said the budget will be a “fantastic focal point for the governor’s re-election.”
The Legislature is slated to vote next week both on the proposal and a separate $3 billion tax incentive plan for Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group. The incentives, nearly all of which would be paid to Foxconn in cash rebates, are tied to the company investing up to $10 billion and creating 13,000 jobs in the state.
Walker and Republican supporters cast the Foxconn deal as a crowning example of how their economic agenda over the past six years has been a success. But Democratic opponents say the deal is a bad one for the state and done simply to help Republicans get re-elected.
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