Lawmakers consider how to spend $575M in unexpected revenue

Reps. on both sides eye K-12 funding increase
Lawmakers consider how to spend $575M in unexpected revenue
Sen. Alberta Darling

The state will take in much more money than expected in the next two years. New estimates out Thursday show the budget picture getting much better and lawmakers have to decide what to do with the cash.

“$575 million of new money, now I think that’s the story of the day,” said Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee.

“You’re probably going to want to know how are you going to spend it?” asked Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and the Senate co-chair of JFC.

The latest estimates from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau show the state taking in more than $500 million than expected in tax revenue in the next two years.

“I think there’s broad interest in giving our K-12 education more resources,” Darling said. “Schools are our priority, no matter if you’re a Republican, Democrat, rural or urban.”

But at this point, Democrats and Republicans differ on how much schools should get. The governor’s budget kept per-pupil K-12 funding flat. Assembly Republicans said they’d support a $100-per-student increase, some Senate Republican leaders have said $200, and Democrats want at least half of the $550 per student cut schools that was taken last year.

“Clearly there are no more excuses,” said Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. “We should be trying to make every effort to restore those cuts that were done in the last budget biennium when we had a shortfall.”

But Republicans would also like to put more money into tax cuts, reducing the amount the state is borrowing for roads or other issues.

“I think you could see some of it used on very specific programs that are much smaller than anybody would be aware of that we would help prop up or save,” said Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. “There’s a lot of different angles on how it could be used.”

VIDEO: Lawmakers consider how to spend $575M in unexpected revenue

Governor Scott walker said in a statement Thursday that he’d also support increased aid for schools, but listed lowering income and property taxes and building a rainy day fund as other priorities.

Democrats say they’d also like to see cuts restored to job training programs at technical colleges.