Republican-Led Assembly Passes $83.6 Billion Budget, Dems Call It ‘Crumbs’

2019-21 state budget passed by GOP-led Assembly spends and borrows $83.6 billion, a more-than $7 billion increase over the previous budget #wiright #wipolitics #wibudget Click To Tweet

MacIver News Service | June 26, 2019

By M.D. Kittle and Ola Lisowski

UPDATED AT 10:45 a.m. to include comments from Sen. Chris Kapenga on the Assembly budget amendment. MADISON, Wis. — When is an $83.58 billion biennial budget “table scraps?” Crumbs? 

In the bizarro world of legislative liberals, of course. 

The Republican-controlled Assembly on a party-line vote Tuesday passed a budget (all-funds) that is $7 billion bigger than the 2017-19 budget, set to end Sunday. The bill now heads to the Senate floor on Wednesday for debate and a vote, and then, should it pass, to Gov. Tony Evers. The Democrat has yet to say whether he’ll partially veto the bill, or strike the entire document.

Drafted and passed earlier this month by the GOP-led Joint Finance Committee (JFC), the GOP plan comes with a whopping $81.67 billion in all-funds spending, plus $1.91 billion in bonding authorization for state capital projects, for a grand total of $83.58 billion for the biennium. Evers’ tally in all-funds spending hits $83.8 billion, with another $2.44 billion in bonding — for a total of $86.2 billion.

Under the JFC plan, General Purpose Revenue (GPR) spending will increase to $36.7 billion in the biennium, increasing spending from the prior base year doubled by 6 percent or $2.1 billion, but cutting Evers’ proposal by 1.8 percent or nearly $696 million.

In total, the budget proposal pumps in $665 million more over current spending levels for K-12 education, hundreds of millions of dollars more for transportation, and a boatload of new bonding for maintenance and construction of state government buildings.

In Madison math, which uses a base year doubled method, the 2019-21 budget package spends $6.25 billion more than 2017-19’s base. But in real dollars, the new document would spend $7.1 billion, or 9.3 percent more.

Republicans say their budget funds the priorities that Evers laid out but does so without breaking the bank. Yet, their proposal comes with a $1.4 billion structural shortfall. Evers’ budget plan posts a nearly $2 billion deficit.

But it’s not enough for Democrats, who spent the better part of 10 hours of Assembly floor debate bemoaning the Republican budget for delivering what Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) characterized as “just a few table scraps.” The majority’s budget stands at nearly $2.1 billion less than than the “liberal wish list” Evers rolled out four months ago. 

The phrase that paid Tuesday for Dems was “missed opportunities.” Such was the main talking point of a minority party that wanted more — so much more. 

“It is clear in this budget we are leaving everybody behind,” Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) insisted. 

The left’s doleful rhetoric left their colleagues on the right shaking their collective heads. 

“This is the first time ever I’ve heard billions in new spending called crumbs,” Rep. Romaine Quinn (R-Barron) said. 

Well, not the first time. Nancy Pelosi and the congressional left used the same kind of hyperbolic — and factually incorrect — language to describe the Trump tax cuts of 2017. 

Make no mistake, this is a budget that knows how to spend. So much so that it will cost at least a couple of fiscal conservative votes in the Republican-controlled Senate, where one more defector could cost passage of the “Wisconsin Budget,” as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), calls it.

Vos calls the GOP plan a “conservative budget.” Sens. Dave Craig (R-Big Bend) and Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) disagree. So apparently do three Assembly Republicans — Janel Brandtjen, of Menomonee Falls, Rick Gundrum, of Slinger, and Timothy Ramthun, of Campbellsport — who voted against the bill.  

“I simply can’t deceive the taxpayers by voting for a budget that creates a significant structural deficit, generates the largest property tax hikes in a decade, contains unsustainable levels of excessive spending and authorizes an extremely offensive new vehicle miles-driven tax on motorists starting in 2023,” Nass said in a press release last week. “This is not a conservative budget by any reasonable analysis.” 

Another Republican Senator Says No To Republican Budget


A Republican amendment to the bill perhaps offered enough sweeteners to ensure final passage. 

One provision would specify that “dealers of new vehicles that are not franchised, but who are otherwise authorized to sell vehicles in the state, would not be in violation of dealer licensing laws.” In short, dealers could sell Tesla vehicles in Wisconsin, a measure reportedly aimed at Sen. Chris Kapenga. The Delafield Republican has long supported the Tesla deal. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story Tuesday claimed Kapenga owns Integrity Motorsports of Eagle, a retailer of Tesla parts.

At an emotional press conference Wednesday before the Senate took up the Assembly budget, Kapenga blasted the story as false. He said he owns a website, not a dealership. He said he helped his daughter build the website as a learning experience. Rebuilding Tesla vehicles is a hobby, not a business, the senator said, although he acknowledged he has sold Tesla parts to the solar industry.

Kapenga claims special interests looking to kill the Tesla bill fed the press in an “attempt to discredit myself and Tesla, which is a great company.”

“I feel like it brought my character into question,” the senator said.

While he said he agonized over how he would vote on the budget, he said Wednesday that he is now a definite “yes.” He said he arrived at his decision in large part because of the tax relief it delivers. And as a free-market advocate Kapenga said he remains committed to opening Tesla sales in Wisconsin.

Another measure would increase district attorney pay progression by nearly $3.48 million total over the biennium, and add 35 assistant district attorneys statewide, at a cost of $3.59 million in GPR. The provisions were worked in, sources say, at the request of Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), but Vos said many Republican lawmakers had sought the additions. 

Towns would get $5 million more in funding, the Rural Critical Care Hospital Supplement fund would get a bump, and the Wisconsin Rapids-based Incourage Community Foundation would receive a $3 million grant for an economic and community hub. 

The amendment also does away with a JFC transportation provision that would have given the committee the authority to approve the implementation of a mileage-based fee. Instead, any recommendations from a study committee would have to be included in the Department of Transportation funding request for the next budget. Critics were worried that a decision on tolling recommendations and the controversial mileage fee would ultimately be in the hands of one committee, and not the full Legislature. Vos suggested the issue was blown out of proportion by “people who thought there was a kind of mass conspiracy,” but the original JFC language was pretty clear about the committee controlling the process. 

And the amendment boosts GPR funding for the Wisconsin Lottery, which will translate into another $6.18 million in combined property tax savings through the lottery and gaming tax credit. The change means the Republican budget checks in with a slightly smaller increase than Evers’ budget. A recent Legislative Fiscal Bureau report recently found the two budget proposals increased property taxes by about the same amount, within the rate of inflation. 

The Republican plan spends billions of dollars over the 2017-19 budget, led and signed into law by then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker. 

Democrats still cried poverty. They said Republicans didn’t adequately fund education. But the GOP plan provides $655.4 billion more in GPR over the budget base to the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), making it the largest general fund increase in sheer dollars. All told, the two-year DPI budget spends north of $15.2 billion on K-12 education. 

For Democrats, it’s not enough. They demanded the $1.59 billion increase Evers, the former DPI secretary, called for in his budget plan — and another $600 million in special education funding.

A group of public education activists wrapping up a 60-mile march to the Capitol Tuesday led the faulty narrative that the Republican budget cuts K-12 spending by nearly $1 billion. Members were eventually led out of the Assembly gallery Tuesday afternoon after many in their ranks disrupted floor debate. 

Democrats demanded Republicans insert Evers’ proposal calling for 60 percent state funding of special education. They said the 30 percent increase proposed in the Republican budget was “immoral.” They failed to mention that 30 percent was the same reimbursement rate that Evers repeatedly asked for when he was DPI secretary, when he was calling Walker’s last two-year spending plan a “kid-friendly” budget. 

The Republican budget includes $553 million more in all-funds transportation spending, including $106 million more in GPR. It delivers $58 million more in operational funds for the University of Wisconsin System, and nearly $1.1 billion in additional bonding authority for System projects. Democrats insisted the funding levels put Wisconsin’s public colleges and universities on a starvation diet. 

The Republican plan comes with a $500 million-plus tax cut, bringing $91 in average income tax relief in the first year and $124 in the second. Those earning between $30,000 and $60,000 would see the biggest benefit. Dems point out that Evers’ middle-class tax-cut plan provides more money in tax reductions. But the governor gets there by raising taxes on manufacturers and retirees.

The Republican plan also would lower individual income tax rates for the lowest earners.

Perhaps one of the biggest selling points to the majority’s bill, according to Republicans, is what’s not in their budget proposal. 

“This budget also stops some bad things. It rejects the governor’s liberal wish list, policies that took us backwards,” said Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam). 

The JFC, before getting down to work on writing its own budget, stripped Evers’ budget blueprint of scores of policy measures. Most controversially, Republicans removed Evers’ plan to expand Medicaid, the lynchpin of his budget. The governor was counting on using the expansion to draw in some $1.6 billion in additional federal money. 

Medicaid expansion, Republicans argued, would be costly to the private insurance market, pushing up premiums and limiting access and affordability. It also would expand welfare in a time of unprecedented economic growth. 

The Republican budget also jettisoned Evers’ nearly 10-cent gas tax hike and accompanying indexing, taxation without representation. And the Joint Finance Committee took out many other policy proposals, like driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, decriminalization of marijuana, and provisions that would roll back several years of welfare and labor reforms. 

“If we weren’t here to stop this budget proposed by Gov. Evers we would be heading down this path again,” said Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin), reminding his colleagues of the dire economic days of 2009-10 under Democratic leadership. 

Democrats in recent days have spoken a tad more positively about the Republican budget plan. There’s more funding they say, quickly insisting Evers led Republicans to the liberal promised land of more spending and expanded government. But, again, it’s still not nearly enough. 

Evers, Liberals Kind Of Like Republican Budget — Is There Something Wrong With This Picture?

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said before the floor session began that his members would not vote for the Republican measure. Not one did. 

Vos blasted Democrats for finding ways to get to “no.”   

“What you are telling me is, for the next four years you are irrelevant in the process,” the speaker said in a fiery speech. “What are you for? Nothing. You’re against everything in this budget.” 

Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), co-chair of the budget-writing committee, said Democrats could have stood up for the changes they wanted through the amendment process, but they didn’t. They had determined to vote no long before the vote, he said, and their diatribes on the Assembly floor were just so much show. 

“Sounds to me like a missed opportunity,” Nygren said. “Actions do speak louder than words.”