The Latest: Panel repeals forestry property tax

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) The Latest on the Wisconsin state budget (all times local):

4:45 p.m.

A legislative panel has approved language in Gov. Scott Walker's budget eliminating the state property tax.

The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 Thursday to end the forestry mill tax. All the committee's Republicans voted to eliminate the tax; all the panel's Democrats voted against it.

Revenue from the forestry tax goes toward acquiring, preserving and developing forests. The tax is the only property tax the state levies, although a number of local government entities levy their own property taxes. Revenue from the forestry tax goes toward acquiring, preserving and developing forests.

The move would save the owner of a median-valued home about $50 over the next two years. The state would lose about $181.5 million in revenue meant for forests. Walker's proposal calls for filling that gap with money from the state's general fund.

Committee Democrats warned that general fund dollars could dry up in future budgets and lawmakers could find better uses for $181.5 million.

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3 p.m.

The Legislature's budget-writing committee has approved exempting storm water runoff and drainage from farms as a fixed source of pollution.

The Joint Finance Committee's Republican co-chairs, Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling, proposed the move. The committee voted 12-4 on Thursday to add the exemption to the state budget as part of a wide-ranging motion affecting agriculture and environmental quality.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the GOP-authored changes would bring Wisconsin in line with the federal Clean Water Act, which excludes farm storm water runoff and drainage from the definitions of fixed sources of pollution. The move means farms would no longer need storm water runoff permits.

The committee's Democrats ripped the exemption, saying it will lead to unregulated pollution and contaminated drinking water. Republicans countered that they're making state law consistent with federal regulations.

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1:15 p.m.

Republicans who control the Legislature's finance committee say they expect to finish work on the state budget in early September.

Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling told reporters Thursday they expect to take the final votes on the spending plan the week of Sept. 5. The state Assembly will likely take up the budget the following week while the state Senate votes on a $3 billion incentive package for a Foxconn Technology Group plant. The Senate likely will take up the budget the following week.

Work on the budget has been stalled since mid-June as Republicans grappled over how to pay for road projects in the face of a nearly $1 billion shortfall in the state's transportation fund. Gov. Scott Walker said this week that he had reached a tentative agreement with Republican lawmakers calling for $400 million in new borrowing and a higher registration fee for electric vehicles.

Nygren and Darling declined to elaborate on the deal Thursday.

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10:45 a.m.

The Legislature's finance committee plans to take votes next week on school funding proposals in Gov. Scott Walker's budget.

The Joint Finance Committee is set to meet Monday to address Walker's plan to give public, voucher and charter schools an additional $649 million over the next two years.

The budget is now eight weeks late thanks to Republican infighting over how to pay for road projects in the face of a nearly $1 billion shortfall in the state's transportation fund. Walker and Senate Republicans want to borrow more money and delay major projects. Assembly Republicans want to raise more revenue and have suggested raising the gas tax or vehicle registration, both nonstarters for the governor.

But Monday's meeting signals the impasse might be thawing. Once the committee votes on school aid, road funding will be the last big-ticket item for the panel before it can complete its work and send the spending plan on to the full Assembly and Senate.

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8:30 a.m.

Wisconsin lawmakers are set to starting taking votes on the state budget again after Republican infighting stalled work on the spending plan for more than two months.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee was scheduled to convene Thursday morning to vote on portions of the budget that call for eliminating the forestry mill tax, the only state portion of homeowners' property tax bills.

Wisconsin law requires lawmakers to finish the budget by July 1 but committee hasn't taken a vote on the spending plan since June 15. Republicans can't agree on how to pay for road projects and they've turned their attention away from the budget to providing incentives for a Foxconn Technology factory.

The budget deadline is mostly symbolic. Spending continues at current levels until a new budget is approved.

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