Legislature Passes State Budget and a Package of Related Bills

This week, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a state budget for the 2021-2023 fiscal biennium, which began on July 1. The Assembly approved the budget bill (Assembly Bill 68) on June 29, with the Senate concurring in the bill the following day. The two-year budget proposal, assembled by the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee (JFC), would spend $87.5 billion and cut income and property taxes by $3.4 billion. Once the Legislature formally presents the budget to Governor Tony Evers (D), he has six days (excluding Sundays) to decide whether to veto the bill in its entirety, sign the bill, or to sign the bill with partial vetoes.

On Tuesday, June 29, the state Assembly voted 64-34 to approve the budget, with four Democratic representatives joining all Republicans to vote in favor of the bill. That included Representatives Steve Doyle (D-Onalaska), Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay), Beth Meyers (D-Bayfield), and Don Vruwink (D-Milton). On Wednesday, June 30, the Wisconsin Senate voted 23-9 to concur in the state budget. Democratic Senators Janet Bewley (Mason), Brad Pfaff (Onalaska), and Jeff Smith (Brunswick) joined all present Republicans in backing the bill. Senator Roger Roth (R-Appleton), currently serving a military assignment, was the only legislator absent from either house for the final budget vote.

Although the Legislature had already set aside several days this week for a normal floor period, Republican leaders convened an extraordinary session to consider the budget and several other bills. That had the effect of limiting procedural maneuvers that could have extended or delayed the process. This year marks the first time since 2007 that a state budget has cleared either house of the Legislature with the support of legislators from both parties.

Legislature Approves Personal Property Tax Repeal, Several Other Bills

Alongside the state budget, the Legislature voted to approve Assembly Bill 191 and several other bills this week; those bills can now be presented to the governor for his approval or veto. AB 191 would exempt all remaining business and manufacturing personal property from personal property tax assessments, effective January 1, 2022. Since 2017, machinery, tools, and patterns have been exempt from the personal property tax. Under AB 191, items such as buildings and improvements would continue to be assessed as real property.

The state budget bill set aside over $200 million to reimburse local taxing jurisdictions for lost revenue if the tax repeal bill is signed. Republicans opted to pursue the repeal in a separate bill to avoid the governor’s powerful partial veto authority over language in the state budget.

The Legislature adopted several amendments to AB 191, largely making technical changes to statutory language, requiring tax incremental districts to be recalculated to exclude the value of personal property, and specifying that buildings, improvements, and fixtures on certain types of lands, such as leased lands and forest lands, be assessed as real property. The amendments also attempted to ensure that the bill would not create an unrelated income tax break for companies based outside of Wisconsin, and that the state’s transportation fund would be reimbursed for anticipated lost revenue from railroad companies.

Other bills approved by the Legislature this week included:

  • Assembly Bill (AB) 406: Requires the lowest schedule of unemployment insurance contribution rates to remain in effect through the end of calendar year 2023, regardless of the cash balance of the state’s unemployment reserve fund.
  • AB 407: Establishes a Legislative Human Resources Office to oversee complaints and allegations against legislators and staff and to manage employment records.
  • AB 367: Requires the governor to allocate funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to purchase and rehabilitate paper mill properties in Wisconsin Rapids and Park Falls.

Also this week, the Senate approved an Assembly amendment to Senate Bill 120, which requires law enforcement agencies to have a publicly available policy regulating the use of force by law enforcement officers. Click here to read more about legislation related to law enforcement that the Legislature has considered in 2021.

Finally, the Senate and Assembly voted this week on a bill to authorize Milwaukee to finance and construct a dredged material management facility (Assembly Bill 408/Senate Bill 425). However, each house approved different versions of the bill; those differences must be reconciled before the bill can be forwarded to the governor and passed into law.

Governor Signs Three Bills, Vetoes Two More

While the Legislature debated and voted on the state budget, Gov. Evers issued decisions on several other bills this week. The governor signed the following bills into law:

  • Senate Bill (SB) 198: Expands the applicability of the room tax, establishes a common tax base between the sales tax and room tax, and makes a variety of substantive and technical changes to the administration and enforcement of the room tax. Enacted as 2021 Act 55
  • SB 302: Extends the authority of the Department of Public Instruction to waive certain requirements and deadlines applicable to independent charter schools and private schools participating in the parental choice and special needs scholarship programs. Enacted as 2021 Act 56
  • AB 374: Requires the attorney general to cooperate with local governments that are parties to the multidistrict litigation regarding prescription opiates. Gives JFC authority to approve any proposed settlement agreement. Requires 70 percent of the proceeds from the settlement agreement to be payable to local governments and 30 percent of the proceeds to be payable to the state. Enacted as 2021 Act 57

Gov. Evers also vetoed the following bills:

  • AB 336: Ends Wisconsin’s participation in federal programs to provide or supplement unemployment benefits. Prohibits the state from waiving the work search requirements for unemployment benefits for any reason related to COVID-19. Veto message
  • AB 173: Prohibits municipalities from accepting private funds for the administration of elections. Allows the Wisconsin Elections Commission to accept such donations, provided they are administered to municipalities statewide on a per capita basis. Veto message