As the July 1 deadline for enacting a new state budget for the 2001-2003 bienium nears, the UW System budget remains a contentious issues.
“A priority in the Senate has been education — especially higher education,” said Mike Browne, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, D-Madison.
This priority led the Senate to include tax increases such as business taxes and the cigarette tax in their proposed budget.
These increases in taxes are what produce the most concern among many Republican legislators.
Maureen McNally, spokesperson for Senator Mary Panzer, R-West Bend, said the increase in taxes would exacerbate the current economic slowdown in Wisconsin.
“We have a number of concerns about the level of spending and level of taxes,” she said. “Wisconsin is already in an economic slowdown. There have been 800 layoffs in the past few months and there will be nearly 10,000 by the end of August.”
Democrats take a different perspective on the economic slowdown.
“There is a lot of concern about the state of the economy, but the way you bring in good paying jobs and get people ahead is by giving them a top notch education,” Browne said. “If we invest in the UW, in both the quality of programming and in keeping it affordable, then we have a trained workforce which will attract employers.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum agrees with fellow Republicans that the spending proposed by the Senate is not necessary.
“[McCallum] believes that the budget in the Assembly is more responsible,” said McCallum spokesperson Debbie Monterrey-Millet. “His big concern with the Senate budget is the concerted effort to do away with job promotion and economic growth.”
Productive debate between the two parties has also been thwarted with attack advertisements on Democratic Senators and their proposed budget.
Sen. Jim Baumgart, D-Sheboygan, was disappointed with radio advertisements that attacked eight Democratic senators directly and, according to Baumgart, provided listeners with false information.
“We are not the boogie man they portray us to be,” Baumgart said. “The ad was deceptive in process because they don’t mention any of the positive elements of the taxes.”
Democrats also defended themselves against the accusation that the budget proposed in the Senate had far greater spending levels than was originally proposed by McCallum.
“Our budget is $140 million less than the governor’s budget,” Baumgart said. “We have faults with our budget as do the Assembly and the governor, so why the attacks?”
After the Assembly passes their version of the budget, talks between the two houses will commence. Following these talks McCallum will give the budget his final approval. Although the current versions of the budget produced by the Senate and Assembly contain many changes, McCallum’s intention is to finally enact a balanced budget.
“[McCallum] doesn’t mind if [legislators] want to rearrange the deckchairs, so to speak, but if the increase funding in one area they have to decrease it in another,” Monterrey-Millet said. “His major concern is that he gets a balanced budget that doesn’t penalize taxpayers.”
The deadline for passing the state budget is July 1, although it is unlikely the legislature will have a final budget agreement by then.
“Considering how vastly different the two versions are, I don’t think anyone is anticipating passing the budget before the deadline,” Monterrey-Millet said.