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New state budget: 'Historic tax relief' or financial risk?

Local lawmakers’ response to the Wisconsin Legislature’s adoption of a new biennial budget seems subdued, with the area’s lone Democratic representative hoping the governor will veto parts.

On a vote of 55-42, the assembly passed the budget in short order June 19 after Democrats decided not to offer any amendments or prolong debate. Minority Leader Peter Barca was quoted as saying the spending plan is so bad there was no hope of fixing it.

After a 12-hour debate, senators voted 17-16 early the morning of June 21 to approve the same version of the budget. Majority Republicans struck down a number of Democratic amendments and did not consider others.

The legislature’s budget, which now goes to Gov. Scott Walker who has line-item veto power, would cut income taxes for all tax filers by $650 million over two years, expand statewide private school vouchers available now only in Milwaukee and Racine, and tighten income eligibility under Medicare, diverting nearly 90,000 people into federally subsidized exchanges to buy insurance.

The budget approved by the legislature also freezes tuition at UW campuses for two years, allows the sale of public properties, requires DNA to be collected upon arrest for a felony or conviction of any crime and allows bail bondsmen to operate in the state.

Never 100 percent perfect

“No budget bill is or ever has been 100 percent perfect,” said Rep. Warren Petryk (R-Eleva). “Unfortunately, this nearly 1,500 page piece of legislation contains some items that I do not agree with, and a debate in the assembly on these issues would have been welcomed.”

But, said Petryk, after weighing “the good and the not quite as good,” he felt the budget’s positive points outweigh the negative.

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) called the document “The Eat Dessert First Budget.”

She said the tax cut for about 75 percent of filers--which would save a person making $30,000 about $50 a year and someone making over $300,000 about $1,500--eliminates about $600 million of state revenue.

“Because spending is not reduced--this budget spends $4 billion more than the last--a half a billion dollar structural deficit is created down the road,” claimed Vinehout.

She said budget writers built several hundred million in new tax collections, but a recent forecast by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve shows Wisconsin’s economy contracting over the next six months. She said the budget increases the state’s debt and doesn’t put away enough money in case of another economic downturn.

For more please read the July 3 print version of the Herald. 

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

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