BY TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans finished their work on the state budget Wednesday, moving the $87 billion spending plan through the Senate and on to Gov. Tony Evers.
The Senate passed the massive bill on a 23-9 vote after about five hours of debate. Three Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the budget — Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, Jeff Smith and Brad Pfaff.
The Assembly passed it Tuesday night. Evers introduced the budget in February; Republican lawmakers have been working on revisions since May.
The centerpiece of the two-year budget is a GOP-authored plan to cut $3.3 billion in income and property taxes, a move made possible by the state’s unprecedented $4.4 billion surplus.
The budget also would end an eight-year freeze on University of Wisconsin System undergraduate resident tuition and hold K-12 funding largely flat. State schools are in line to receive $2.6 billion in federal pandemic relief aid, however. In all, Republicans reduced spending by about $4.4 billion from what Evers proposed.
Republicans erased literally hundreds of Evers’ proposals from the spending plan, including legalizing marijuana, expanding Medicaid, restoring union rights for state workers, raising the minimum wage and allowing judges to seize guns from people they deem dangerous.
Debate began in the Senate around 3 p.m. Wednesday. Republicans touted their tax cuts, calling them historic. Democrats slowed the proceedings with long speeches lambasting Republicans for eliminating Evers’ priorities. Sen. Chris Larson, a Milwaukee Democrat, accused Republicans of choosing to impose tax cuts rather than funding schools even though the state is flush with cash.
“(Republicans are) kicking the dust in the faces of our kids who have fallen further behind,” he said.
Sen. Dale Kooyenga, a Brookfield Republican, countered that the budget doesn’t cut education funding and schools are set to receive “jaw-dropping” amounts of federal aid.
“I think this is a responsible budget,” he said.
Evers will have six days excluding Sundays to take action on the budget once it reaches his desk. He could sign the budget into law, use his partial veto powers to rewrite the document more to his liking — he can strike words but can’t add any — or veto the entire plan, although that’s unlikely. If he does nothing during that window, the budget automatically becomes law.
Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said Wednesday morning that the administration was reviewing the spending plan as passed by the Assembly.
She pointed to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo that said if Evers vetoed the entire budget the state would lose the $2.6 billion in federal pandemic relief aid for schools, a possible signal that Evers isn’t considering such a move.
No governor has vetoed the entire budget since 1931.
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