MADISON (WKOW) -- Through hours of debate Wednesday on the next state budget, the biggest source of intrigue was whether any Senate Democrats would vote for the Republican re-write of Governor Tony Evers's two-year budget.
As Republicans in charge of the legislature move to pass their $87.5 billion spending plan, four Democrats in the state Assembly voted yes on the GOP budget. Evers proposed spending $91.2 billion in his executive budget back in February.
This budget process differs from recent cycles thanks to a surge in projected tax collections - $4.4 billion more than previously estimated. Republicans have moved to put much of the surplus, about $3.4 billion of it, into tax cuts.
Republicans passed an amendment that guarded their budget against Evers' line-item veto powers. Evers could veto the whole thing but that would be an extreme departure from what governors have traditionally done.
Evers' line item powers allow him to remove words from the budget but he cannot add language, nor can he remove letters from a word.
The hefty tax cuts, along with a drastic scale-back of Evers' spending ideas, satisfied some of the legislature's most conservative members.
"There have been many budgets I voted against. This one is probably the best I've seen since I've been here," Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater). "Property taxpayers are gonna be very pleased."
Democrats wanted more of the surplus to go toward generational public works projects and to give school districts a boost while also lifting the property tax cap so they charge the same rates while taking in more cash; the GOP budget keeps the cap so their additional state funding is cancelled out by property tax cuts.
"I realize the other side is continuing to push for more government programs and we have to restrain ourselves because you have to feed the beast going forward. That's the problem," Nass said. "We have to have a controlled amount of spending, which we've done and we're saving, putting money in the piggy bank."
For the typical homeowner, it amounts to $100 in savings on their annual property tax bill in year one while increasing by about $30 in year two for a total savings of $70 during the biennium according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
"I think there are ways we can [cut taxes] that would get it to the people who need it the most," said Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason). "And have enough left over to go to education, go to health care, go to transportation."
Republicans also moved to eliminate the personal property tax, which businesses pay each year on equipment they own. The tax brings the state about $200 million each year. GOP leaders touted the savings it would bring small business owners while Democrats worried the cut - which was executed outside the budget - did not do enough to backfill revenue that will no longer make it to local governments.
"The way the legislation is written now opens the door to the possibility of this costing so much more money than the amount of money that was set aside in finance the other night to pay for it," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point).
Once Evers gets the budget, he has six days to act. That window does not include Sundays but does include holidays like the 4th of July.