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July 12, 2005

Republican View on State Budget: Cutting Taxes a Priority in State Budget

Folks in Wisconsin have diverse views. Yet there seems to be one issue we can all agree on, and that’s the need to finally bring our taxes in line with the peoples’ ability to pay.

When Republicans won the majority in the state Assembly in 1994, we made a commitment to cut taxes each session in an effort to control our state’s tax burden. That commitment continues and is reflected in this budget with a number of tax cuts designed to give some relief to Wisconsin’s working families.

First, this budget contains a real property tax freeze.

It freezes the tax levy for all taxing units for three years, and recognizes that controlling property taxes requires controlling spending at all levels of government. Earlier this year, Governor Doyle looked Wisconsin taxpayers in the eye and told us that he supported a property tax freeze. The property tax freeze passed by the legislature allows the Governor to keep his commitment to Wisconsin taxpayers. If local governments feel they need to spend more, they may take requests for additional spending to the taxpayers in the form of a referendum.

A recent article in Bloomberg pointed to our tax climate when ranking Wisconsin as the worst state in America to retire. We need to reverse that trend, so we’re phasing out the state tax on Social Security pension income—a $100 million dollar tax cut for Wisconsin’s seniors. People who have worked hard all their lives deserve to spend their golden years here with their families, rather than be forced to look to other states to escape our tax burden. Families shouldn’t be split up due to our tax climate, and this tax cut can go along way toward ensuring that doesn’t have to happen.

Also included in the budget are tax cuts designed to help make health care insurance more affordable. This budget contains a full deduction for health insurance premiums paid by people whose employer does not provide insurance. And to help families save money for health care costs, contributions to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) would no longer be taxable income in Wisconsin. HSAs have been shown to help reduce our state’s uninsured population, and are an affordable option for small businesses and farmers who are trying to provide health insurance for their employees.

The legislature cut the gas tax for the first time since 1994 and stood up for Wisconsin taxpayers by rejecting a number of Governor Doyle’s proposed tax hikes, including a vehicle registration fee increase of nearly 20%.

We rejected the Governor’s HMO Health Care tax which would have increased costs for Wisconsin residents, said no to his proposed hike of the Nursing Home Bed Tax, and reduced his Daycare Tax—saving Wisconsin taxpayers an additional $140 million.

Recognizing the importance of Wisconsin’s sporting heritage, we also substantially reduced the 60% increase in gun and archery licenses called for by the Governor.

Finally, stronger families build a stronger Wisconsin. That’s why we supported an Adoption Tax Credit to help families give hope to children in need of better lives.

In all, the Republican budget spends $300 million less and borrows $600 million less than Governor Doyle. Not only are we cutting taxes, the state will be in a much better shape financially than it would have been under the Governor’s budget.

Some people will argue that tax cuts should not be a priority during tight budgets, but just the opposite is true. Tough economic times are when tax cuts can be most effective in getting our economy and our state moving again.

Now more than ever, Wisconsin Republicans are committed to cutting taxes on working families, and we’ll keep cutting taxes until they are finally brought in line with our ability to pay.

By Mike Huebsch, Republican state Rep from West Salem.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:47 AM

MMSD Staff Recommendations for Committee Goals

In response to my request, MMSD Legislative Liaison Joe Quick made the following recommendations for the Board Legislative Committee for 2005-06.

Q: What should be our core message to the legislature and other advocates?

A: I think our core message should be the need to re-examine school funding particularly, school funding/revenue limits, underfunded mandates (specifically, special ed. & bilingual) and tax fairiness (given that the property tax payers burden is 70% residential compared to 40%in 1946).

Q: What should be our calendar for meetings and activities?

A: This can't be determined until the committee decides its activities. the agenda the committee determines will dictate how often meeting is needed.

Q: What resources will we need to convey our messages effectively?

A: Our resources are "human" not financial. For example, fostering opportunities for Madison parent advocates to meet with parent advocates from say Racine, or Stoughton to discuss school funding issues would provide Madison parents/BOE members with a wider perspective.

Q: What will be the role of staff and what should be the role of Legislative Committee members and Board members?

A: To articulate the message of the need for tax fairness in order to prevent the annual ritual of cuts by school districts in order to comply with revenue limits.

Q: What should be our plan for building media support for our messages?

A: Let local media know about meetings with parent advocates from Racine and other communities and invite them to hear about the problems of school finance in OTHER communities.

Q: What barriers should we expect? (opposition from allies, positions of legislative majority, disconnect between MMSD calendar and legislative calendar, limits on the capacity of the Legislative Committee and Board of Education to commit time necessary for statewide organizing efforts???)

A: The barriers will be a Legislature that believes K-12 finances are adequate and posits that "tax fairness" is really just a "tax shift" and a governor and Legislature that campaigned for and was elected on a "no new taxes" platform. Certainly, the WI Manufacturers & Commerce will oppose and changes to the tax system unless the proposal provides another tax break.

Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2005
From: Joe Quick
Cc: Art Rainwater, Carol Carstensen, Mary Gulbrandsen

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:34 AM

July 11, 2005

Budget crafted as state slept, Night-owl Legislature makes critics uneasy

Madison - Dave Warren was asleep when Wisconsin legislators voted to spend the $9,888 in taxes, fees and federal funds that make up his per capita share of the $54 billion state budget.

All but a handful of other Wisconsin residents were asleep, too. Continuing a Capitol tradition of all-night haggling and deal-making, the Assembly passed its version of the two-year budget at 5:01 a.m. on June 22, and the Senate followed suit, passing a similar budget at 5:15 a.m. on July 1. The Assembly gave final approval of the Senate's amended version at 8:21 p.m. on July 5.

A business owner who attended one of the Legislature's budget hearings, Warren says he doesn't understand - or appreciate - the manner in which lawmakers build and adopt a spending plan.

"I'm just a hardware-store guy. I don't know the (Capitol) ins and outs," said Warren, who owns Dave's Ace Hardware in Milton.

"Things were changed in the middle of the night. I was disgusted by the whole thing."

It was a "vampire budget," said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, a non-profit group that monitors the Capitol.

Voting on a budget is the single-most important action lawmakers take, Heck said. Doing so in the middle of the night "undermines public confidence in the Legislature - which currently enjoys very little public confidence as it is," he said. "Did they hope no one was noticing?"

The process that delivered a 1,050-page state budget to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's desk last week is a biennial ritual that runs on secrecy, in-your-face partisan politics and 2 a.m. amendments that mysteriously appear without sponsors.

For example, no senator has publicly claimed responsibility for a 2:45 a.m. idea to begin making 31,000 non-union state workers contribute toward their pensions. The proposal never got a public hearing but was added to the budget by Senate Republicans.

Sleepless in Madison
That's the way the Legislature often must work, insisted Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee.

The committee met 18 times and took more than 450 votes over a two-month period, and Fitzgerald said sometimes marathon sessions were necessary to get the job done. The committee worked all night before finishing its work at about 6 a.m. on June 10.

The all-nighter was a necessity, Fitzgerald said. He noted that Democrats used the same tactics when they ran the Legislature.

"If you break and allow people to regroup, and sleep, and eat, and recharge their batteries, what you end up with is another debate on another day and a whole different set of dynamics," Fitzgerald said.

There is no other way to explain middle-of-the-night Assembly and Senate votes to spend billions of dollars in tax funds over the next two years, and to set priorities touching the lives of all of Wisconsin's 5.5 million residents.

To the average person, the process can be confusing, and frustrating.

Citizens often have to wait hours to testify at public hearings. When they finally get to talk, half the chairs of legislators may be empty, or lawmakers present may be signing mail to constituents back home.

Time is relative
Individuals try to follow debate personally, on the Internet or by sitting in Capitol galleries, only to give up because in the Legislature, the trains rarely run on time.

Joint Finance Committee meetings often are scheduled to start at 10 a.m., but the committee may not convene until 3 or 4 p.m., or later. Such loose scheduling might work for lawmakers, but average citizens with jobs and children to pick up at school, soccer practice or day care centers work on much tighter timelines.

Warren joined hundreds of Wisconsin residents at a March 9 public hearing in Watertown, waiting 75 minutes before he and other hardware store owners addressed lawmakers. The store owners asked that Wisconsin join a national push to ensure that Internet retailers collect Wisconsin's 5% sales tax. The Legislature refused to jump aboard, however.

"All I need is a level playing field," Warren said, explaining that the same cordless drill set he sells for $199 can be bought on the Internet for the same price, with free shipping and no sales tax charged.

Because Internet buyers of goods and services are not paying Wisconsin's 5% sales tax, state government is not collecting millions of dollars, Warren said. "I think that's unfair."

Warren's experience wasn't much different from that of Jim Heerey of New Auburn, who waited 3 1/2 hours to testify about forestry funding at the Finance Committee's hearing in Menomonie on March 14.

Heerey said he appreciated the opportunity to be heard, but since then has had trouble learning how forestry actually fared in the final product.

Dominating the six-month process of introducing, debating and passing the 2005-'07 budget were:

• Secrecy: It starts with the governor, who received state agency budget requests last fall, huddled in private for months with his top aides and advisers going over cash flow, tax and political-risk issues before giving his budget to the Legislature on Feb. 8.

A first-term Democrat elected with just 45% of the vote, Doyle is focused on getting re-elected in November 2006.

Republicans, who control both the Assembly and Senate, then took up where Doyle left off, meeting behind closed doors to make tentative spending decisions, craft complicated packages on thorny issues such as health care, and then ratifying those closed-door deals in public sessions.

Former Senate Majority Leader and former Supreme Court Justice Bill Bablitch said such meetings may violate the state's open meetings law.

Bablitch was among a group of Democratic lawmakers who in the 1970s routinely crafted the budget behind closed doors - until reporters and editors protested and the open meetings law was written. In the 1980s, Bablitch wrote a Supreme Court opinion on the issue.

"The basic premise is the public has a right to know," Bablitch said.

Fitzgerald defended the process, however. Often, he said, lawmakers need time before the Finance Committee convenes to be sure they agree on an issue before taking an official vote.

Privacy breeds candor, he said, with committee members "much more willing to talk about senators' personalities, and quirks and problems than they would be in the open."

The Republican caucuses left Democrats cooling their heels, waiting to hear from GOP leaders what direction the committee was heading.

Rep. Pedro Colón from Milwaukee, one of four Democrats on the budget committee, said he often felt "helpless" while waiting for the majority to release omnibus motions, giving him little time to be briefed and respond with his own motions.

Colón also said he often found out about what would be included in the budget when lobbyists came to his office seeking a Democratic vote.

"As soon as they are in trouble, they are in my office," Colón said.

• One-committee clout: Legislatures in most states have two or more committees that draft a state budget. Commonly, appropriations committees supervise spending, and ways and means committees handle tax policy.

That's not true in Wisconsin, where the Joint Finance Committee is among the most powerful legislative committees in the nation because it has both taxing and spending authority. For lobbyists and legislative leaders, it offers one-stop shopping.

Fitzgerald said the committee doesn't work without support from leadership, and it is ultimately accountable to the majority party in each house.

The bottom line: Before the Joint Finance Committee can act on any issue, dozens of people - party leaders, legislators and key lobbyists - have to sign off on a decision.

And that takes time.

• Winner-takes-all politics: Republicans made the most important budget decisions without consulting Democrats. That's one reason none of the 53 Democratic legislators cast a final vote for the budget at any point in the process.

Republicans "never talked to us," said Senate Minority Leader Judy Robson (D-Beloit).

But Fitzgerald and fellow Joint Finance Committee co-chairman, Rep. Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah), said this year's committee may have produced more bipartisan work than ever before. Kaufert told the Assembly that of the 450 votes the committee took, more than half of them were unanimous, reflecting Democratic votes.

• Non-stop fund raising: Between the time Doyle introduced his budget and the Legislature passed its version, 30 different lawmakers held fund-raisers. And since last November's election, Doyle has held five fund-raisers of his own.

Heck said the non-stop fund raising is "more disturbing" than the middle-of-the-night votes, because it turns the budget process into a "campaign cash shakedown period."

This year, Heck noted, Doyle has been raising as much money as he can for re-election in 2006, and Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo) is doing the same to stake his run for the U.S. House next year.

From the July 11, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 4:13 PM

July 8, 2005

Doyle vows to find money for schools

MADISON — Gov. Jim Doyle pledged Wednesday to use his partial veto authority to find more money for schools in the budget Republican lawmakers crafted.

If he can’t, he may reject the entire thing.

The Assembly voted Tuesday night to put the finishing touches on a budget that would fix the state’s $1.6 billion shortfall while phasing out state taxes on Social Security benefits, cut the gas tax by a penny and strictly limit property tax increases over the next three years.

The Republican plan also would give schools an additional $458 million in state aid over the next two years on top of the almost $5.3 billion a year they now receive.

But Doyle, a Democrat, originally proposed giving schools $938 million more for the two-year budget, saying the huge increase was needed to meet rising costs while eliminating the need for school districts to hike property taxes.

Republicans have argued the increase was all the state could afford while trying to fix the deficit. State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, said the problem with Doyle’s pledge to find more money for schools in the $52.9 billion budget is simple: Doing so would mean cuts elsewhere.

“If he finds enough money for schools, there’s a hole somewhere else,” said Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.

From The Post-Cresent, July 7, 2005

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:50 AM

July 7, 2005

Assembly Approves Revised Budget

The Assembly signed off Tuesday on changes the Senate made to the state budget to create a tax credit for those who adopt, force some state employees to pay into retirement funds and cut $1 million from UW-Madison.

The 52-43 vote added those changes to a $52.9 billion budget that also would phase out the state's tax on Social Security benefits, cut the gas tax by a penny and restrict property tax increases over the next three years.

Wisconsin State Journal
Wednesday, July 6, 2005
JR Ross Associated Press

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, dismissed the Senate changes as a "bar-time amendment" concocted by majority Republicans in the middle of the night last week to "purchase" the final two votes needed as that chamber approved the budget, 17-16.

He chided the Assembly for going along with the changes, saying they would hurt the public, state employees and Wisconsin troops.

Assembly Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo, professed no love for the Senate changes, either, dismissing them as gimmicks crafted to appease two Republican senators. But he said the heart of the GOP-crafted budget -- property tax limits and cuts to the taxes on Social Security benefits and gas -- remained intact and that outweighed the negatives.

"I believe the heart and soul of this budget is intact," Gard said.

The budget now goes to Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, who can approve it, veto portions of it or reject the entire document.

The state faces a $1.6 billion shortfall for the two-year period through June 30, 2007. The budget would fix that shortfall through a series of spending cuts, accounting moves and fee increases.

Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature, and the Assembly backed a different version of the budget last month. But the Senate made several changes last week to get the 17 votes needed for passage. The GOP controls the chamber 19-14; two Republicans voted against the budget while two others refused to back it without the changes.

The changes inserted by the Senate include a tax credit for parents who adopt a child, which would eventually cost the state $7.5 million a year; requiring nonunion state employees to contribute the first 1.5 percent paid toward their retirements, costing about 30,000 employees $42.2 million over the next two years; and an additional $100 million reduction in the budgets of state agencies over the next two years.

Agencies would be able to apply to get $96 million of that money back if the Legislature's budget committee approved the request.

Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, called the cut to agencies particularly repugnant because it would mean a $303,900 reduction to the Department of Military Affairs that oversees the Wisconsin National Guard.

Schneider called Republicans hypocrites for putting slogans and banners in the windows of their cars supporting U.S. troops while they are at war, and then voting to cut their funding.

"This is one hell of a way to support our troops, isn't it? You ought to be ashamed," Schneider said.

Republicans countered the money was not a cut because the Department of Military Affairs could still apply to have it reinstated. Assembly Assistant Majority Leader Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, noted the overall budget for Military Affairs would increase by $26 million over the next two years to $143 million, even with the $303,900 that would be held back.

"The fact is that this body recognizes the importance of our veterans and our military personnel and has given them an increase that rivals anything else that we've done in this budget," Huebsch said.

Other provisions inserted into the budget by the Senate include:

* The restoration of $7.3 million in sales tax revenue retailers receive for processing paperwork related to reporting sales tax revenues. The Legislature's budget committee had reduced how much retailers would be compensated.

* A tax credit for parents who teach their children at home or send them to private school, saving those parents $14.6 million a year.

* A reduction in state money for UW-Madison by $1 million over the two-year period. Republicans have been upset over a series of decisions made by the school, including paying top-level administrator Paul Barrows his almost $200,000 a year salary while he was on leave and looking for another job.

\ Budget at a glance

The vote: The Senate approved the document, after changes were made, 17-16. The Assembly concurred on the amended version, 52-43.

What's next: Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, gets the budget now. He can approve the budget, veto parts of it or reject the entire thing.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:47 AM