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State budget heads to governor’s desk

Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 6:35 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WSAW) - The Wisconsin Senate has passed the state budget and sent the $87 billion spending plan on to Gov. Tony Evers.

The Senate passed the document on a 23-9 vote Wednesday evening. The Assembly approved the budget after about eight hours of debate Tuesday. The budget passed, largely, along party lines with four Assembly and three Senate Democrats voting to approve it. Notably, one of those Democrats was the Senate Minority Leader.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) stated that Legislative Republicans “doubled down” Wednesday on their past work.

“In addition to a transformational $3.4 billion tax cut, the Legislature made targeted investments in every essential function of state government including significant new money to schools, frontline healthcare workers, and a fully-funded transportation system all while maintaining historically low state spending,” said LeMahieu.

Senator Melissa Agard (D-Madison) said she was “disappointed” by the budget cuts.

“We had the opportunity to invest in health care by finally expanding Medicaid and taking advantage of the one-time chance to bring in an additional $1.6 billion federal dollars. Republicans said no,” said Agard.

The tax cuts were in large part due to the state’s historic $4.4 billion dollar surplus. Included in the items Republicans cut from the governor’s original budget was more than 90% of proposed funding for K-12 education. Earlier this month, Democrats warned if the state does not spend enough money on K-12 education that Wisconsin will miss out on more than $2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief aid to schools.

Republicans, however, stated they had met the requirement, or the “maintenance of effort,” and are happy to have the state return to funding two-thirds of the public education budget. Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk), who is on the Joint Finance Committee, said during a press conference in Wausau Thursday that the $128 million is not the end to the funding towards education.

“The budget meets the maintenance of effort, we will not know exactly what that maintenance of effort ‘til 2025, so as we spend dollars going forward throughout this cycle we will have to do additional school funding,” she said.

Rep. Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) laid out the dollar amounts that would be allocated for some area school districts including about $10.5 million for the Wausau School District, $4.5 million for the D.C. Everest School District, $7 million for the Wisconsin Rapids School District, and $6 million for the Stevens Point Area Public School District.

However, Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) told NewsChannel 7 that school district leaders in central Wisconsin tell her the K-12 funding in the budget currently is “flat” as costs of education and building repairs rise.

“I heard from the Stevens Point Area Public School District. They said they would be $1.8 million of a structural deficit because of this budget and that with flat funding, but increased cost, they would likely have to go to referendum,” she said.

She added the money that is allocated for schools in the budget from the federal money is not able to be used in the classroom and is labeled “education only in name.” She said that ultimately means districts will have to ask people to raise their property taxes through referendums. Rep. Krug, however, argued the funds are flexible and can be used for classroom spending.

Gov. Evers said Thursday morning he was not comfortable commenting on how he would handled the budget saying his opinion would depend upon how it was written. Senate approval sends the budget to Evers, who can sign it or use his partial veto powers to rewrite the document. The governor will have six days excluding Sundays to take action on the budget once it reaches his desk.

If he does nothing it automatically becomes law.

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