Framework for budget deal seen

Republican co-chairman says work still needed on $69 billion plan

Jun. 4, 2013

MADISON — The Republican co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee said Monday the framework is in place for a deal to resolve the three largest undecided items in the $69 billion spending plan, but “we’re not there yet.”

The comments from Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, came as Republicans continued to meet in secret to reach a deal on the remaining issues in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget. The Joint Finance Committee planned its final meeting on the budget today before sending the two-year spending plan to the Assembly and Senate.

Walker and Republican legislative leaders have been working feverishly in private to reach consensus on the final major pieces of the plan, including voucher schools, education funding, Medicaid and income tax cuts.

“The framework is there for agreement but we’re not there yet,” Nygren said in a brief interview between meetings in the Capitol. “I think we can get there, but it might be a long night.”

Nygren said it was still his hope to complete committee work today.

Democrats called on Republicans to compromise with them, not each other. “Bipartisanship isn’t just Republicans negotiating with other Republicans and their interest groups,” Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chris Larson said.

Democrats want more money for public schools and no growth in the private school voucher program. They also want Walker, a Republican, to accept federal money to pay for Medicaid expansion and a tax cut plan that more heavily favors the middle class.

They are almost certainly not going to get what they want.

Walker and fellow Republicans are going in a different direction. Republicans control the Assembly 60-39 and the Senate 18-15.

Walker proposed a $343 million income tax cut and Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, called for an additional $408 million. Republicans are now working on a total cut of $500 million or more over the next two years, according to Walker and Republican leaders.

An analysis of the tax cut proposals done by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau and released Monday by Democrats showed the plan would result in an average decrease of $59 a year for someone earning $40,000 in 2015 compared with $2,567 for someone earning over $300,000.

People making over $100,000 a year would receive about 63 percent of the tax cut in tax year 2015, according to the analysis.

The choice for Republicans is either to give more money to the wealthy in the form of a tax cut, or use the money to give public schools more, Democrats said.

“We’re stealing money from K-12 education to pay for a tax plan that by and large benefits the rich,” said state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.

Republicans were also working on deals that would expand the voucher program statewide but cap enrollment at no more than 1,000 students in newly added school districts. Walker’s original budget would have had no enrollment cap after two years, but expansion would have been limited to just nine new districts. Vouchers are allowed currently only in Milwaukee and Racine.

Nygren said the framework for agreement on vouchers was there but “there’s no firm deal yet.”

Democrats are against voucher school expansion, saying it diverts money from public education into a parallel system that’s not as accountable to taxpayers. Democrats want a $275 per-student increase in public school spending, while the latest Republican deal only includes a $150 per-student increase.

On Medicaid, Walker has rejected federal money that would have paid for expanded coverage to anyone earning up to 138 percent of poverty, or about $15,000 for a single person. Instead, Walker is lowering income eligibility for adults in Wisconsin’s BadgerCare Medicaid program from 200 percent of poverty, or $22,980, to 100 percent, or $11,490 a year.

Accepting the federal money would result in an additional 84,700 people being covered by Medicaid and cost $119 million less because of the federal money that would have come to the state.

Walker said he didn’t have faith that the federal government would follow through on its commitment to pay for an expansion.

Walker said Friday the compromise he’s working on with GOP legislators will still reject the expansion and be close to what he originally proposed. Part of the plan reportedly includes a cash payment to Wisconsin hospitals to help them deal with a possible increase in emergency room visits from the uninsured.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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