Legislators Discuss Best/Worst Aspects of the Joint Finance Budget

State Assembly Scheduled to Debate Budget on Tuesday and Wednesday

MacIver News Service | June 14, 2013

[Madison, Wisc…] Last week, the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) finished its work on the 2013-2015 state budget. As groups across the state begin to assess the changes in the new budget, Republican and Democratic legislators on the Committee offered their own takes on where the budget succeeded or failed.

Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), JFC Co-Chairs, highlighted the Committee’s attempts to build upon Governor Scott Walker’s stated priorities.

Darling and Nygren listed the Committee’s most positive changes as having “nearly doubled the proposed income tax cut, provided additional funding for education and expanded educational choices for students and parents statewide.” By focusing on these three aspects of the budget, the leading Republicans underscored their emphasis on tax cuts as crucial to job creation as well as the transformation of education through increased funding and school choice programs.

Other Republicans echoed Darling and Nygren’s statement. When asked what they believed to be the top three accomplishments of the Committee’s budget, Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and Rep. Pat Strachota (R-West Bend) all listed tax reform as the greatest success.

Lazich explained that the Committee’s tax reform, which would decrease all income tax rates and reduce the amount of brackets from five to four, would provide “relief to all Wisconsin income tax payers.”

Given this change, coupled with the simplification of some portions of the tax code, Lazich expressed hope that Wisconsin would no longer be one of the highest taxed states.

Taxes and spending similarly proved to be the biggest concern for Grothman, whose second and third biggest accomplishments for the Committee’s budget were the University of Wisconsin’s tuition freeze, and the property tax freeze, respectively.

Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) and Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) also reacted to the JFC’s version of the budget. By and large, they expressed disappointment in the changes that the Republican-led committee made. Where Republicans praised the income tax cut, Mason and Richards felt that the cut was “targeting even more money toward the wealthy,” money they say was taken from public schools in the previous budget.

They also criticized the expansion of Wisconsin’s school choice program, which they called “unaccountable.”

Finally, the two Democrats focused on the changes in health care. Mason and Richards denounced the rejection of the Medicaid expansion, saying that the Republican’s plan will cost more money and cover fewer people. They both hope to focus the debate on education, health care, and job training during the upcoming Assembly debate.

Lazich, however, praised the changes to the Medical Assistance (MA) program and education in the JFC’s version of the budget. According to Lazich, all Wisconsin residents will have access to health care whether through BadgerCare or private health insurance exchanges setup by the Affordable Care Act.

She also praised the Committee’s increased funding for K-12 public schools, a $150 per-pupil increase for each fiscal year. She supported measures to expand school choice, increase funding for private school vouchers and charter schools, and the private school tuition tax credit. Lazich said, “hard working families paying hefty property taxes for public schools, in additional to private school tuition, will see some relief.”

Strachota echoed Lazich’s satisfaction with the education reform passed in JFC’s budget, citing both reforms to the UW system as well as K-12 education as major accomplishments. She additionally praised the Committee’s nearly $650 million income tax cut.

The Assembly is scheduled to debate the budget on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.