- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin’s $76 billion state budget could be derailed by an $11 dispute.

Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign promise to keep property taxes lower by 2018 than they were when he was re-elected in 2014 is proving to be a stumbling block toward reaching a budget deal with fellow Republicans in the state Assembly. An Assembly GOP education plan being released Tuesday, which the Senate Republican leader rejected outright, would allow property taxes to go up $11 on a median-valued home from where they were three years ago. Walker objects so strongly to increasing property taxes he’s threatened to veto the entire budget over it.

Republicans in the Senate and Assembly haven’t reached an agreement on school funding, how to pay for roads and tax changes. Senate leaders said Monday they may end up passing their own separate plan, a move Assembly Speaker Robin Vos labeled as a threat, while Walker said there’s still time for everyone to come together.

“It’s June 6,” Walker told reporters in Wisconsin Dells. “A lot can happen in 48 hours, let alone the next three and a half weeks. If we were in the fall, it would be a little different matter. But again, three and a half weeks out. We’ve got such sizable majorities in the Assembly and Senate, there’s bound to be some differences because you’ve got such a large group of people.”

Republicans have their largest majority in the Assembly since 1957 and the Senate since 1971.

Vos said he hoped Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald would take the time to fairly consider the new Assembly education funding plan unveiled Tuesday. Among other things, the plan would allow low-spending districts to levy more from property taxes, eliminate a requirement in Walker’s budget that schools charge a certain amount for health insurance in line with the Act 10 law and reduce per-student aid by $90 million from what Walker proposed.

In total, K-12 spending would be about $70 million less under the Assembly plan from what Walker wanted.

Fitzgerald rejected the Assembly plan, saying in a statement that “a proposal that raises property taxes and picks winners and losers within our school districts is a move away from the position of both the Governor and the Senate Republican caucus” and “is simply not the direction that this budget is headed.”

The public bickering among Republicans is highly unusual.

“Republicans need to put aside their squabbling and do what’s right for the people of Wisconsin,” said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca. “They should craft a budget in an open and transparent manner. They should pass a budget in a timely manner for municipalities, schools and transportation authorities to plan for the coming year.”

Walker’s proposal boosts per-student aid by $200 and $204 over the next two years.

Lawmakers should stick with the governor’s aid-increase proposal, while also incorporating parts of the Assembly plan that benefit low-spending districts, said John Ashley, director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

Walker said the Assembly education plan is at odds with his two highest priorities - increasing school funding by $649 million and cutting property taxes below where they were in 2014.

Under the Assembly plan, property taxes on a median-valued home would be $2,842 in each of the next two years. That would be down $10 from $2,852 in 2016, but up $11 from $2,831 in 2014. Property taxes on a median-valued home in 2010 were $2,963.

Lowering property taxes by $11 to get them to the 2014 level would take about $55 million in additional school aid over two years.

Vos said he hoped lawmakers would take the time to explain their education plan to voters back home. He said he feels no urgency to pass a budget by June 30, when the current one ends, because state funding will continue at current levels until there is a deal.

Vos also discounted Fitzgerald’s comments from Monday that the Senate may move forward with its own budget, something that’s never happened when one party has controlled both chambers of the Legislature.

“There is absolutely no reason to make threats,” Vos said. “I’m not going to make threats.”


Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report from Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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