UPDATE: State budget heads to Assembly after JFC approval - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

UPDATE: State budget heads to Assembly after JFC approval

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The state budget is now on its way to the Assembly for debate after an overnight session that concluded with votes early Wednesday morning.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee started meeting on Tuesday. After 10 hours of closed-door meetings, the JFC reconvened at 1:00 a.m., took a short break and met again at 3:30 a.m. They started voting on key elements of the budget around 4:30 a.m.

The plan includes a $650 million income tax cut.  That was nearly double what Governor Scott Walker had proposed in February. The plan would reduce income tax rates in all five brackets and reduce them to four. About 54 percent of the tax cut would benefit those making more than $100,000 a year. People who earn $45,000 would save about $85 a year.

Democrats argue the tax cuts favor the rich and the money should instead go to public schools, which were deeply cut two years ago.

The budget plan also expands private school vouchers statewide. Governor Walker had wanted it to expand to nine new cities, but this would widen it even further. The program would put a cap on enrollment in voucher schools; 500 students next year and 1,000 every year after that. Those limits would not apply to Milwaukee and Racine, where the program is already in place.

The voucher school program allows public school students to attend private and religious schools using a taxpayer funded voucher. Democrats oppose it, saying they are unaccountable and divert money from public education. Senator Jennifer Shilling says, "Overnight we have supersized vouchers in this state. It's vouchers on steroids."

Legislators also voted on a few other items, including allowing bail bondsmen in five counties. Dane County is included in that. They also approved making private school tuition tax deductible and targeted the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism in the budget.

The new budget plan will be taken up first by the Republican-controlled Assembly in about two weeks. Then it'll head to the Senate. Republican Senate and Assembly leaders say they don't believe any changes will be made to the plan before it's passed.

Wednesday morning, Governor Scott Walker praised major parts of the plan, saying he's happy to see more money included in the budget for public education and that parents will now have more choices in where to send their children.

On income taxes, Governor Walker said helping middle-class families was one of his priorities. He says the tax cut is the largest since the 1999-2001 budget.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The private school voucher program is going statewide and income taxes will be cut about $650 million over the next two years, after an early Wednesday vote by the Republican-controlled state budget committee. 

It approved the expansion and tax changes, after debating through the night and more than 10 hours of closed door meetings.

The tax cut is more than double what Walker proposed. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he's "really proud" of the large tax cut. Democrats say the tax cuts will favor the rich. They want the money to go to public schools instead.

The voucher expansion will allow public school students to attend private and religious schools using a taxpayer funded voucher.

The voucher expansion deal, approved on a partisan 12-4 vote, caps enrollment in voucher schools to 500 students next year and 1,000 for every year after that. Those limits would not apply to Milwaukee and Racine.

Gov. Scott Walker's original proposal expanded vouchers to only nine cities, but there was no enrollment cap after the second year.

Democrats are calling the move vouchers on steroids.  They oppose voucher schools, saying they are unaccountable and divert money from public education.

The Joint Finance Committee reconvened around 1:00 Wednesday morning.

Republican legislative leaders have also announced an agreement on school funding, but have not yet taken a vote on the measure.
The deal on public schools means districts would be permitted to increase spending by $150 per student in each of the next two years.


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MADISON (WKOW) -- The Joint Finance Committee was delayed for more than six hours at press time Tuesday.

Committee members are expected to vote on at least two big issues: school vouchers and income tax cuts.

Expanding the school voucher program would allow parents to use public funding for their children to attend private or parochial schools. Under the plan, only 1 percent of students per district would be allowed to use the vouchers. The program already exists in Milwaukee and Racine counties.

Tuesday afternoon, after the vote was delayed a second time, WKOW talked to budget committee member Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee), who seemed worried funding would be pulled from public schools to be put into private schools.

"We will continue to fight for public schools and getting the funding that they need. Right now we're pessimistic that we'll be successful but we're going to continue the fight and I hope that they'll listen to reason," Richards said.

"They" meaning republicans, who say vouchers allow parents to have a choice when it comes to which school their children attend and let students leave schools that received poor marks on state report cards.

Republicans also want more income tax cuts – almost $750 million.

Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) has proposed $400 million in tax cuts in addition to the $348 million cut Gov. Scott Walker originally wanted for the 2013-15 biennial budget plan.

Committee members say they expect to resolve the entire budget Tuesday.

"I expect that we're going to do the entire budget tonight -- all of the outstanding issues," Richards said. "There are a couple of other curve balls that might come into the picture later on. For example, I've heard some people say that there might be bail bonds, especially in Dane County where there's a particular pilot project."

Once the Joint Finance Committee meets and finishes work, the budget will go to the Senate and Assembly.

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