Open Records Requests Reveal Assembly Democrats’ Budget Amendments

Amendments Would Have Increased Spending $1.8 Billion

[Madison, Wisc…] The Assembly Democrats in an unusual legislative move, decided not to introduce their budget amendments on the Assembly floor back in June. The MacIver Institute, in an effort to bring transparency to the budget process, filed a series of open records requests to Assembly Democrat leadership asking for information on the 200 plus amendments that were planned for introduction.

“The biennial budget bill is such a critical component to Wisconsin’s future and the public was robbed of a thorough and robust debate when Assembly Democrats decided at the last second to pull back their amendments”, said Brett Healy, President of the MacIver Institute. “On behalf of taxpayers, the MacIver Institute asked for documents that would give the public a better idea of what the Assembly Democrats’ vision for the budget was.”

After a thorough analysis of these documents, the MacIver Institute found that, if passed, Assembly Democrat amendments would have increased spending by $1.8 billion, taxes and fees by $500 million, and bonding by more than $270 million in comparison to the budget passed by the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC).

Most amendments were similar to those introduced by Democrats in JFC and the Senate. Some notable amendments included changes to local school district funding, the school choice expansion, and the income tax cut.

“At the time, Democrats said there ‘was no fixing this’ budget”, commented Healy. “As it turns out, taxpayers should be thankful they didn’t ‘fix’ the budget. It would have cost us an arm and a leg.”

Assembly Democrats wanted to increase per-pupil spending for public schools by $275, which would have added $612 million to the state budget.

Their vision for the budget would have included changes to the tax code, as well. Assembly Democrats would have reinstated multiple special interest tax credits and increased taxes and fees up to $500 million.

The minority party had plans to introduce an amendment that would repeal the statewide expansion of school choice. They also planned to introduce an amendment that would have eliminated UW-Milwaukee’s ability to establish 2R charter schools anywhere in Milwaukee County or adjacent counties.

They also had an amendment that would have deleted the private school tax deduction. While this was their first goal, they also prepared amendments that would have made significant changes to the tax deduction.

The Democrats planned to put an income cap on the deduction. They also wanted to extend the tax deduction to all families with students that attend public school, but would deny the deduction to any family that took advantage of school choice.

The budget included a provision that requires municipalities to reduce the tax levy by the same amount that fees are increased and one Democrat amendment would have repealed it.

We do have to credit Assembly Democrats for some good policy, though. They planned on introducing an amendment that would have deleted any item that was identified as an earmark by the Fiscal Bureau.

But, they prepared many amendments that would undo provisions that we previously pointed out were good for taxpayers. The minority party wanted to accept the massive Obamacare expansion of Medicaid and deny state employees the option to use a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account.

Democrats also aimed to repeal many of the provisions that crack down on fraud and abuse in Wisconsin. The budget contains a provision that will help to reduce the fraud and abuse in the unemployment insurance program by ensuring that individuals receiving benefits perform four job searches per week instead of just two. Democrats were prepared to remove that item.

They also prepared amendments that would repeal efforts to reduce fraud within the Food Share program and the homestead tax credit.

Their amendments would also have reinstated the ability to have residency requirements in cities and counties, made double-dipping by state employees easier, and allowed cities like Milwaukee to charge ratepayers across the state to build and run a streetcar.

Analysis of the amendments compared the proposals to the JFC version of the budget because of the timeframe in which they would have been introduced. Some amendments did not have enough information incorporated to provide accurate fiscal analysis and were not included.

A full list of the amendments from Rep. Barca’s office is available here.