Special needs school vouchers expanded, taxes on Wisconsin business property to be cut

Property taxes paid by Wisconsin businesses would be cut by nearly $75 million under a Republican proposal that has been added to the state budget.

The proposal approved Wednesday by the Joint Finance Committee targets machinery, tools and patterns not considered manufacturing property under state law. Republican backers say the tax cut will primarily benefit smaller businesses and not large manufacturers.

Republicans say they decided to reduce business taxes rather than go along with Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to cut personal income taxes and waive sales taxes on back-to-school purchases once a year.

“We didn’t have enough money to do it and wanted to leave enough money in our end balance to have a future. So the last thing we wanted to do was to eliminate a tax, in my opinion, that wasn’t significant enough,” said Rep. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills.

The tax cut was added to the $76 billion budget as the committee pushed to complete its work on the two-year spending plan.

Democrats criticized some of the tax moves as hurting local governments.

“I think it’s frustrating to continue to see local governments continuing to get the short end of the stick on a lot of different issues. They’re struggling to pay for the most basic services they have, to provide for services like police and fire,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.

The full Legislature could vote on the budget as soon as next week.

Special needs school vouchers expanded, taxes on Wisconsin business property to be cut

State special needs voucher program expanded

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee has approved an expansion of the state program extending taxpayer-funded vouchers to students with disabilities.

The changes approved Wednesday are projected to double enrollment in the program that began last year. Democrats object, saying costs could go well beyond the projected $3.1 million more per year. That is because there is no cap on expenses that could be covered.

Under the changes, enrollment in the program is expected to increase by 250 students in the 2018 school year. In 2016, there were about 200 students in the program.

Democrats say it diverts more money from public schools to private schools, something they have long fought against.

“This is policy that is not aligned with the values of Wisconsin, not aligned with the actual needs facing a lot of our students that we should be doing everything possible to give them the resources needed to provide opportunity,” said Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. “And it disproportionally impacts local property taxpayers and just is another expansion of taxpayer funding for private schools.”

But Republican supporters say it provides parents with special needs children more options.

“Any parent should have an opportunity to get the education that’s right for their child and, unfortunately, with the existing system, public or private opportunity, people are choosing to go to private school. Kids are locked into a situation that’s just not working for them,” said Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette.