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Dispute over $11 tax cut could derail Wisconsin budget


Associated Press

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 his fellow Republicans in the state Assembly. An Assembly GOP education plan being released Tuesday is expected to allow property taxes to go up $11 on a median-valued home — something Walker opposes so strongly he’s threatened to veto the entire budget over it.

Walker isn’t the only one sticking by his pledge to lower property taxes, which was made on the campaign trail three years ago. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said state senators also are “locked in” to make it happen.

That just leaves the Assembly, which also has broken with Walker on roads funding and other central issues.

“It’s not our goal to meet the governor’s 2014 pledge,” Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee, said Monday. He called the looming question over whether property taxes should be lowered as much as Walker wants “the center of the biggest difference” between the Assembly’s education plan and what the governor is proposing.

Walker wants to boost spending on K-12 schools by $649 million over the next two years. He’s been traveling the state touting the plan and has stopped at nearly 50 schools so far. That’s a marked contrast from his first years in office, when he largely avoided going to public schools after he cut school spending and took away collective-bargaining rights from teachers and other public workers.

The Assembly plan is expected to reduce state aid for schools by about $90 million from what Walker proposed and instead allow lower-spending districts to make up the difference through higher property taxes. Nygren stressed that the plan would let all schools get more money than they do currently, and property taxes would still be lower than they were in 2010 – the year before Walker took office.

Under the Assembly education plan, property taxes on a median-valued home would be $2,842 in each of the next two years, according to a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau sent to Nygren last week. They were $2,831 in 2014 — a difference of $11 — and $2,963 in 2010.

Walker’s budget would reduce property taxes by doing away with a state property tax that’s projected to bring in $180 million over the next two years. Legislative leaders have said they will go along with Walker on that proposal, but the Assembly’s new position on education spending puts Walker’s property tax pledge in danger.

Walker reiterated on Monday that lowering property taxes remains a priority. If things don’t go his way on that issue, he is considering an outright veto of the budget. Alternatively, he could use his expansive line-item veto powers to eliminate specific budget provisions.

But as long as Republicans in the Senate and Assembly can’t reach agreement, he won’t have to worry about vetoing anything.

“The bottom line is I do not want to see property taxes go up,” Walker said. “We believe we can get there and we believe there’s interest in the Legislature in doing that.”

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