At about 5:00 pm today, as most Wisconsinites were starting the 3-day weekend, the budget committee co-chairs unveiled a “wrap-up” motion that is 24 pages long and stuffed with 67 different items – many of which are special interest measures that have nothing to do with the state budget. This omnibus motion is the culmination of more than a month of deliberations behind closed doors that included special interest groups, while excluding the general public. Read more
The timing of this motion – right before the holiday weekend and so close to the planned completion of the budget bill – makes it almost impossible for these complicated issues to get anything close to the public and legislative scrutiny that they deserve.
If you were planning to celebrate the fiscal New Year today, I hope you haven’t let your spirits be dampened by the fact that we don’t have a new budget yet. Although the budget process this year has been extremely disappointing, the failure to finish by July 1 isn’t a serious concern – thanks to a very sensible statute that allows spending to proceed at last year’s level until a new budget is enacted. Read more
The problem with this year’s budget process is the fact that it’s been more than a month since legislators have had an open meeting to debate the budget bill. For the entire month of June, which is when the biennial budget is generally debated on the floor of each house of the legislature (and sometimes also in open caucus meetings), all of the budget debates took place behind closed doors. That’s a problem not only because the public has been shut out of the process for over a month, but also because once we get to see the product of those private meetings there will be little or no time to review and react to the budget changes.
Wisconsin has more at stake than most other states when the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling in King v. Burwell, which will determine whether people can continue to get federal tax credits for health care coverage purchased through the federal health insurance marketplace. Read more
State lawmakers have learned how to manipulate the structural deficit/surplus calculations by making unrealistic assumptions about future spending and by moving debts further into the future.
Under Proposal to Eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax, Only Highest Earners Would Receive a Significant Tax Cut
Lawmakers have proposed eliminating Wisconsin’s Alternative Minimum Tax, a change that would give a tax cut to some people with high incomes and exclude nearly all taxpayers with incomes under $100,000. The legislature’s budget committee is likely to vote on the proposal next week. Read more
The process of open deliberations on the state budget bill has ground to a halt, as leaders in the majority party negotiate behind closed doors in an effort to resolve some of the unsettled budget issues. The result of this strategy and the delayed timetable is likely to be substantially less opportunity for the public to weigh in with legislators regarding the numerous issues that emerge during the closing stages of the budget process. Read more
Legislators have taken a break from public debate on the budget as they meet privately to try to hammer out agreement on a few key issues, including how to pay for major highway construction projects. There is not nearly enough money in the state’s Transportation Fund to pay for the highway expansion and other planned transportation projects. But lawmakers are reluctant to increase the gas tax, which is the main source for financing highway projects, and which has declined considerably over the last decade. Read more
Last week the legislature’s budget committee made many changes that will shake up K-12 education in ways that reduce control by elected school boards and siphon funding away from public school districts. We thought that part of the budget was done, but today the committee’s “omnibus motion” on the UW System compounds the problems for some of the school districts in the state by creating new mechanisms for the creation of independent charter schools without the approval of school boards. Read more
One of the positive aspects of the Governor’s budget proposals is an investment in Department of Revenue positions to increase tax compliance and improve collection of state and local debts. But despite the fact that those additional positions will yield a tremendous return on the investment, some conservative legislators have balked at providing more staff for DOR. The issue may be debated in the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) this Thursday or Friday, May 29 or 30. (Update: JFC consideration of the DOR issues have been postponed until June 2.) Read more
There’s been a lot of talk in Wisconsin over the last couple of weeks about the need to ensure that tax breaks and loans awarded by Wisconsin’s economic development agency are limited to businesses that are creating jobs and fulfill their job growth commitments. Yet almost no attention has been paid to the fact that the state’s largest tax credit for corporations is ballooning in cost and is distributed to businesses operating in Wisconsin regardless of whether they are expanding or slashing their workforce in our state. Read more