MacIver News Service | June 20, 2013
[Madison, Wisc...] Senate Democrats put up a strong fight against the state budget on Thursday, unlike their colleagues in the Assembly, but failed to adopt any of their amendments and only found one Republican, Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), to vote in opposition.
Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) proposed 12 amendment packages aimed at modifying the budget. The Democrats tried to remove the school choice expansion, accept the federal expansion of Medicaid, and raise income taxes by more than $600 million in what they called a "property tax cut."
The minority argued against the school choice expansion for over an hour before the amendment failed 17-16. Democrats also tried to remove the private school tuition tax credit from the budget that would give up to a $10,000 tax deduction for families with children attending private schools.
Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), a long-time advocate for the expansion of school choice, spoke strongly against the Democrat amendment. She argued that funding to the choice program is two percent of the state's total K-12 education budget.
Vukmir was one of three Senators to declare earlier in the budget process that she would not vote for a budget without an expansion of school choice. During debate on the floor, the Wauwatosa Senator said that she hopes the caps of 500 students in 2013-14 and 1,000 in 2014-15 would be removed in the future saying that the expansion passed "didn't go far enough."
Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) responded to claims from Democrats that the school choice expansion would only benefit the wealthy. "I don't see how 185 percent of poverty is wealthy," Farrow said referring to the income cap placed on the program.
Larson and other Democrats spoke against the school choice expansion saying it should be removed from the budget and debated as a separate bill.
"We can replace the unproven, unaccomplished expansion of voucher schools," Larson said, "with a true investment in our neighborhood public schools across this state."
Democrats also argued that Wisconsin should accept the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. Just like the debate in the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC), Democrats called out Governor Scott Walker and Republicans for spending an additional $120 million while covering 85,000 fewer individuals than their plan.
The minority party proposed taking the federal funds for BadgerCare to cover all individuals up to 133 percent of the poverty level. Republicans argued that their plan will provide access to health insurance for all individuals in Wisconsin through BadgerCare or the exchanges setup by the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said that Republicans would not be able to give a rationale explanation on why Wisconsin should reject the Medicaid expansion. He said that the rejection would only kick individuals off of BadgerCare and cost more.
"Why are we saying no to people making $7.64 an hour?" Erpenbach asked the body, referring to individuals at 133 percent of the poverty level. Senate Republicans argued that their plan would help move individuals from dependence on government to independence from government.
Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) stood up for the rejection of the Medicaid expansion. Her main concern was the uncertainty of the federal funds. "This doesn't look too promising," Lazich said about the pledge from the federal government.
Lazich explained that the original promise of BadgerCare to cover all individuals was quickly terminated due to a lack of funding.
Democrats argued that the JFC passed budget contained a tax cut that was at the expense of the poor and middle class while only benefitting the rich. Those in the minority said that individuals in the top bracket, which make more than $315,000 annually, would see an income tax cut 10 times bigger than those in the middle class.
However, the tax rate for those in the top bracket is reduced by 0.1 percent while married-joint filers making $14,330 to $28,650 will see a rate reduction of 0.31 percent.
"It is clear that the Republicans and the Governor are on track to make a bad decision," said Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar). Jauch introduced an amendment that he said would make a good decision. The proposal would delete the Republican income tax cut and provide $640 million to local K-12 public school districts.
The Senator claimed that this would provide a property tax decrease statewide on the median-value home by $77 in the first year and $75 in the second year.
Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) fought against this amendment saying that this budget will keep property taxes low and the income tax cut is more important. "In the last 22 years, the four lowest property tax increases were the four years of Governor Walker's first term," Grothman told the chamber.
Lazich also spoke in favor of the income tax cut. She said that it helps all Wisconsin taxpayers and individuals that pay more in taxes already would see a larger monetary reduction. "Two percent of people in Wisconsin make over $200,000 and they pay 30 percent of the taxes," Lazich said in defense of the income tax cut.
The budget passed by the Senate adopted the JFC passed tax cut which would lower rates for all tax brackets and reduce the amount of brackets from five to four. This would provide total tax relief of $648 million.
The Senate passed the budget after more than 12 hours of debate on a 17-16 vote Friday morning with no changes from the Assembly-passed budget. The budget will now head to Governor Walker's desk for any vetoes and his signature.