The Wisconsin Assembly has voted to approve the state's two-year funding plan over complete opposition from Democrats, sending the budget to the Senate where it's expected to be taken up Wednesday.
The $81 billion biennial plan, which passed on a 60-39 vote, includes $1.9 billion for building projects, a nearly $500 million increase in K-12 education, a more than $300 million middle-income tax cut and boosts in vehicle title fees and car registration costs.
But the document doesn't feature many of Gov. Tony Evers' key priorities, including accepting the federal Medicaid expansion, providing $1.4 billion more in education funding and raising the gas tax for the first time in more than a decade. His $83.8 billion budget also sought to raise taxes by more than $1 billion, which Republicans nixed from the plan.
Three GOP members joined all Democrats in voting against the plan: Reps. Janel Brandtjen of Menomonee Falls, Rick Gundrum of Slinger, and Tim Ramthun of Campbellsport.
Democrats, who floated a series of amendments to the budget that were all rejected, slammed the document as series of "missed opportunities" that falls short in aiding Wisconsinites and argued it didn't represent the will of the people.
"If we are sincere about achieving equity in the state, we must find opportunities to embrace our common humanity and no longer nickel and dime our neighbor," Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, said on the floor Tuesday.
"We cannot continue with business as usual, finding every excuse to underfund investments in our community but finding dollars to give away to special interests."
But Republicans, including budget committee Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, touted the plan's investments in education and other areas, as well as GOP efforts to "hold the line" on property taxes and reject unsustainable spending levels, as they urged Evers to sign it into law.
"Neither side will get 100% of what they want, yet this budget is good for all Wisconsinites," he said. "It lives within our means, it funds our priorities and it keeps us on the trajectory of record growth that has enabled us to get to this point."
The budget was approved along with a GOP-backed amendment that sought to make the plan "line-item-veto-proof," according to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in reference to Evers' powerful partial veto authority.
For example, the language would replace the words "may not" and "shall not" with the word "cannot," which would prevent Evers from nixing "not" and altering legislative intent. That's because the governor can delete entire words but not single letters within them.
The amendment, which passed on a 63-36 party-line vote, would also add more state prosecutor positions, lower property taxes by funneling more money through the state's lottery tax credit, give $5 million more in transportation aid to towns, and allow Tesla to directly sell vehicles to consumers, bypassing dealers.
The Tesla provision is looking to ensure the support of GOP Sen. Chris Kapenga, who has supported the measure previously and owns a business that sells Tesla parts, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Additionally, the new language would require that the full Legislature sign off on creating new fees based on how many miles vehicles traveled, rather than just the 16-member Joint Finance Committee.
The budget needs to be approved by the state Senate before it can head to Evers, who hasn't said how he'll act on it once it crosses his desk.
That house is poised to vote on the plan Wednesday, along with a series of other bills. In order to clear the chamber, the budget will need at least 17 GOP votes, assuming no Democrats in the Senate support it.
GOP Sens. Dave Craig, of Big Bend, and Steve Nass, of Whitewater, have already pledged to oppose the plan as it was approved by the state’s budget committee.
The budget as it was passed by the Assembly Tuesday night included the following provisions:
Education funding: The budget includes an almost $500 million increase in K-12 investments — $900 million less than what Evers sought — and around $58 million in funding for the University of Wisconsin System, some $70 million less than what the governor wanted.
The UW plan would extend the tuition freeze for in-state undergraduate students for two more years, but wouldn't provide any additional funding to backfill the costs, as Evers proposed.
Meanwhile, Republicans in their K-12 budget included a $97 million raise for special education funding — rather than the $606 million Evers floated — and increases for per-student aids. The GOP-backed increase would raise the reimbursement rate for special education costs to 30 percent by the end of the biennium.
The funding would mark the first increase to special education dollars in more than a decade.
Evers' plan also sought to stipulate that two-thirds of public school funding would come from the state budget, though that provision was deleted. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates state funding would hit 65.1 percent in the first year of the budget and 65.5 percent under the second year in the GOP proposal.
State building projects: The plan lists $1.9 billion in spending for the state's capital budget, including approximately $1 billion for campus building projects.
The overall figure is lower than Evers' $2.5 billion request.
The GOP-backed plan would free up $5 million to take initial steps to replace the Green Bay Correctional Institution and $100 million for a new Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison. But it doesn't include $98.5 million for a new state office building in Milwaukee or funding for an Alliant Energy Center expansion in Dane County.
And it would tweak how funding is allocated toward replacement facilities for the state's embattled youth prisons, Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, which are slated to be closed in the next couple years.
Transportation: The GOP-backed plan would increase fees but not raise the gas tax over the next two years.
In all, the language would generate $393 million in additional revenue through a $95 title fee transfer increase, which would raise it from $69.50 to $164.50, and a $10 vehicle registration fee upper, which would raise that level from $75 to $85.
The plan would also include $326 million in bonding over the next two years, less than the $338 million in Evers’ proposal.
The plan includes a provision surrounding a state study of mileage-based fees, that would have required the Department of Transportation to submit a recommendation to the state’s 16-member budget committee, which could then be approved or revised by the panel, rather than the full Legislature.
But the amendment lawmakers approved Tuesday would change the language to ensure approval by the full Legislature would be needed to create new fees based on how many miles vehicles traveled.