JANESVILLE - Wisconsin's ongoing fiscal fight came to Janesville Friday, with over 200 residents, community groups and local officials addressing the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee (JFC) at a regional public hearing over the state budget.
Members of the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee met in Janesville and toured Prent Thermoforming to meet with company officials before the extensive public hearing.
Local officials to speak included Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther and Rock County Administrator Josh Smith. Multiple community groups spoke in favor of the budget proposal made by Evers that was announced at the end of February.
While at Prent, committee members heard from CEO Joseph T. Pregont, who spoke of concerns he said would come to bear if the budget passes as is, taking issue with a proposal that would remove the state's manufacturing and agriculture tax credit.
Pregont said he felt the proposal made by Evers could threaten job growth and prevent further company expansion, or companies could leave the state all together.
At noon, state Democrats hosted a news conference outside of the committee hearing, supporting a proposal made by Evers that would support the expansion of BadgerCare, the state's health insurance program for low income families and children.
Evers has proposed over $1 billion in new revenues from tax increases, a proposal that also represents nearly a 10 percent increase in spending compared to the 2017-2019 budget approved under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Within the proposal, Evers calls for $200 million in new transportation funding in the upcoming budget cycle. To fund transportation goals across the state, Evers has proposed an 8-cent per gallon boost to the gas tax while cutting the state's minimum markup for fuel, which would add around $600 million towards state infrastructure over the two-year plan. Heavy vehicle tax and title fees are included along with a hybrid vehicle surcharge fee, while reinstating the inflation-based increases slashed in 2006.
Ahead of Friday's hearing, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, Joint Finance Committee co-chair, stood by criticisms leveled against the Evers plan made earlier this week.
Nygren said the proposal "falls short" when it comes to fostering workforce development, not delivering on request by the state's technical college system and negatively impacting the state's business-friendly environment. Nygren also took issue with the proposal to remove prevailing wage law.
Nygren was joined by committee Vice Chair Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and committee Co-Chair Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, during Friday's media availability.
"This budget spends way too much, coupled with way too much regulation," Darling said. "This back pedals on the best position our state has been in for a long time."
Loudenbeck said Republican lawmakers were "committed to hold the line on taxes," comparing the state's economic growth with Illinois, a state that's seen an influx of businesses leaving to avoid high taxes. In response to the comments made by GOP lawmakers, Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said the state's manufacturing-Ag tax credit was something that benefited those making upwards of $1 million or more annually; also pushing for increased K-12 education funding.
"There is no one silver bullet," Taylor said. "This makes a generational investment in our kids, our roads and our schools."
Other regional public hearings are set for later this month across the state, and lawmakers will spend the coming months negotiating what will ultimately see a vote. Members of the JFC previously said there could be a vote on a state budget by July, with Evers capable of using line item veto authority to cherry-pick and strike items that pass.