Republicans who control the Wisconsin Senate approved a two-year spending plan Wednesday, with just a one vote majority. The Assembly passed the budget earlier this week.
The budget now goes to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who could make some big changes. The office of the Wisconsin governor is known for having “the most powerful veto pen in the country.” Senate Democrats spent much of Wednesday blasting the Republican plan.
Two Republican senators, Steve Nass and Dave Craig, joined all 14 Democrats in voting against the budget that was crafted by the GOP-led Joint Finance Committee. Nass and Craig had indicated earlier that they couldn’t support a budget that includes a 5.6% overall increase in spending. They also objected to hikes in title and vehicle registration fees to pay for roads.
The $81 billion budget includes those increases, instead of the gas tax that Evers proposed. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald defended that part of the budget.
“We’re fixing our roads and infrastructure, without a gas tax increase. The gas tax increase put forward by the governor would have made our gas tax one of the highest in the nation. Cars are becoming more fuel efficient. Hiking the gas tax isn’t a long-term solution, it’s a Band-Aid that practically guarantees we’ll have to go back to taxpayers and beg for more money in the future,” he says.
Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, ended up voting for the budget – after hinting that he wouldn’t — but only after Republicans inserted language to appease him. The provisions would allow electric car manufacturer Tesla to open dealerships in Wisconsin. Kapenga owns a business that sells Tesla parts.
Democrats criticized the biennial spending plan, especially the Joint Finance Committee’s removal of Evers’ biggest initiatives. The panel chose to fund public schools by an additional $500 million. That’s about a third of what Evers wanted.
Joint Finance Republicans also rejected Evers’ proposed legalization of medical marijuana, increase in the minimum wage and a federal expansion of Medicaid that Evers said would cover 82,000 Wisconsinites. Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Schilling says many other states have accepted federal money to expand Medicaid.
“When we look at the number one issue about health care and the opportunity to accept federal dollars, we are one of only 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid. That is the well-being of our citizens. That is the well-being of mental health services. That is the well-being of mental health service, of drug treatment,” she says.
Democrats introduced several amendments that would have pumped additional money into education and health care, but they failed on party line votes. Evers hasn’t indicated yet whether he’ll sign the budget, make changes, or veto the entire thing. But last month, he called the budget “morally reprehensible,” after the Joint Finance Committee removed those major policy items.