Assembly Republicans announced several last-minute changes to their local government funding plans Wednesday afternoon, including a bump in the payments that local governments would receive with shared revenue and some slight changes to other requirements they would need to meet.
Just hours later, Assembly Republicans passed the amended bill, AB-245, despite the governor’s statement earlier in the day that there is more negotiation to come on the measure and a call from Democrats for the bill to be sent back to committee. Senate Republicans also have not signed on yet.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said his caucus will not accept any more changes and that they’ve worked on it in “good faith” for several months. He said the changes made Wednesday were meant to address concerns raised by Gov. Tony Evers.
“Everybody has to take their own position, but we are done negotiating,” Vos said while standing alongside his caucus outside of the Capitol. “We are not going to take changes. We are not going to change the bill substantially. Before us is the deal that we are going to send to our colleagues in the state Senate.”
In an Assembly floor session that stretched past 8 p.m., the bill passed 56-36 with Republicans Reps. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego), Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) and Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) voting with Democrats against it.
Under the Assembly’s new proposal, almost all local governments would receive a minimum increase of 15% in existing county and municipal aid, instead of the 10% initially proposed, a change Vos said was requested by Evers. Milwaukee would still get the minimum 10% increase.
As Assembly Republicans look to end negotiations, Evers and Democrats said after the vote that the bill isn’t complete. Britt Cudabeck, Evers’ spokesperson, said he is in the same place as he was Wednesday morning when he expressed optimism about the conversations to be had “in the coming weeks” and the potential for a bipartisan compromise.
“The governor hasn’t signed off on any amendment, but he looks forward to continuing negotiations with Republican leaders in the weeks ahead,” Cudabeck said in an email.
Assembly Democrats insisted that the bill was not ready, calling on Republicans to remove the string of requirements for local governments in the bill and put more money into the system. A motion to send the bill back to the Local Government committee — which passed the unfinished bill last week — failed.
“The bill that we are debating today is also just not ready for prime time. It’s not the solution to our challenges that people in Wisconsin deserve, and to some it might be a fiscal band-aid, but it comes with unnecessary and damaging strings attached for many communities,” Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) said. “We need to go back to the negotiating table.”
Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) criticized Republicans, who discussed the bill in private caucus for hours Wednesday afternoon before returning to the Assembly to announce the changes and pass the bill, for the way they’ve handled the process.
“There are 90 items in this amendment that we’re now debating. It wasn’t a part of the executive session in committee… As a member of the Democratic party, I was briefed by the Legislative Reference Bureau about 30 minutes before debating the bill,” Goyke said. “I hated, as an equal member of this body, I hated not being able to see what we’re voting on until minutes before we actually cast our vote, and I think speed and secrecy lead to mistakes.”
The lead Assembly author, Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc), said the bill was the result of months of work and negotiations and emphasized that the bill needs to pass.
“This has been over two decades of people not wanting to do this. There has not been a will,” Kurtz said. “We have a will… and to let this opportunity go truly hurts the entire state of Wisconsin, not just the beautiful village of Wonewoc, not just Milwaukee.”
Keeping the requirements for Milwaukee and Milwaukee County
A requirement that Milwaukee and Milwaukee County go to referendum to adopt an additional 2% sales tax in the city and a 0.375% sales tax in the county to address unfunded pension liabilities is still included in the bill.
It remains despite Milwaukee city and county officials expressing concerns about the requirement, saying if the referendum fails they could be forced to make massive cuts to essential services and the city could risk bankruptcy.
Vos said that was a “bottom line” condition for Republicans from the beginning, however. He said an alternative was proposed that would have allowed Milwaukee and Milwaukee County to adopt a tax with unanimous approval from Milwaukee County Board and the Milwaukee Common Council, but local officials rejected the idea.
Goyke said during floor debate that the referendum won’t pass, partially because people don’t like raising their taxes, but also because the people of Milwaukee will want to maintain control of what’s going on in their community.
“They want to make sure that they retain the autonomy and the priorities that they have enacted locally,” Goyke said. “Those things might not matter to you, but they matter to the people that I represent.”
If the local tax is adopted, Milwaukee Public Schools would be required to place 25 school resource officers throughout their schools. That requirement has remained, but the new proposal requires the officers to complete a 40-hour training course.
Other provisions would ban the city from using sales tax tax revenue to pay for extending a streetcar line and ban using tax revenues to pay for positions where the principal duties consist of promoting people on the basis of their race, color, ancestry, national origin, or sexual orientation.
Rep. Kalan Haywood (D-Milwaukee) criticized the ban on diversity, equity and inclusion positions.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts exist to equalize and remedy that past as we move into the future,” Haywood said in a statement. “Minority communities, and especially the Black community have faced centuries of oppression and we have seen our rights, and ability to prosper, stunted by systemic racist policies.”
Other local government requirements stay with some slight tweaks
Most of the provisions that limit local government authority remained in the bill but with some slight changes.
Local governments would still be barred from conducting advisory referenda in most situations. The only exception would allow a local government to hold a referendum on capital expenditures to be paid for with a property tax levy.
A provision limiting the power of local health officials to close businesses in response to an outbreak or epidemic of communicable disease also remains, though that time period is extended. Under the amendment, local public health officials could mandate a 30-day closure and a local governing board could extend that by an additional 30 days.
Rep. Clint Moses (R-Menomonie) cited that change as an example of compromise. “I would like to see more limits on that,” he said of the power of public health officials. “We ended up compromising with 30 days and another 30 days, so we’re limiting it to a total of 60 [days] but you know, that’s a compromise,” he added. “I wasn’t happy, but we’re in the 11th hour here. We need to get a deal put together on this that’s going to be beneficial to as many Wisconsinites as possible.
Under the new proposal, local governments could still risk losing 15% of their state aid if they don’t maintain certain levels of law enforcement each year. The criteria have changed slightly for satisfying that restriction, however. Local governments could meet the requirement each year by not decreasing the amount of tax levy money they raise and spend to employ law enforcement officers, the percentage of tax levies they spend to employ law enforcement officers or the number of full-time equivalent law enforcement officers they employ.
“We have a maintenance of effort requirement, so that you can’t defund the police,” Vos said during the floor debate. “We have requirements to say that going forward we want everybody who works in local government to be focused on merits. We wanted to ensure that every single person who is involved in local government focuses on those core programs. That was done in negotiation.”
Vos said on Wednesday that he wanted to “get this across the finish line” because the rest of the budget needs to be worked on.
“I want to focus on what our tax cuts are going to be, how much we’re going to invest in schools, what are we going to do with corrections,” Vos said. “There’s a lot of other issues that are super important, and that’s why we want to move this one off the table.”
Despite Vos’ goal, shared revenue is not yet a done deal, however.
The bill will now head to the Senate, where it’s unclear if lawmakers would pass the Assembly version. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) did not respond to a request for comment late Wednesday.
LeMahieu has expressed concerns about the referendum requirement for Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, saying he wasn’t sure if that was the best way forward. He told radio station 620WTMJ on Tuesday that conversations are still ongoing about the bill.
Senate lawmakers could potentially decide to make changes and send the measure back to the Assembly.
by Baylor Spears, Wisconsin Examiner
May 18, 2023
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