Legislature Recesses Until January; Hopes Dim for Action on Sparsity Aid, Relief for Low-Revenue Districts

The Wisconsin Legislature wrapped up its fall floor period last week.  Lawmakers won’t return to the floor again until January.  The fate of any number of bills may depend on how many proposals the houses want to tackle.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) told WisPolitics.com late last week that he expects the Assembly to meet for two weeks in January and two weeks in February as well.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he expects the Senate to be in one day each in January, February and March.

Speaker Vos said that could mean the Assembly might wrap up its work by the final February floor period, currently set for Feb. 19-22, and give the Senate a day in March to put the final touches on legislation headed to Governor Walker.

Both leaders acknowledged their spring agendas are uncertain, in part, because the houses spent the last two weeks passing dozens of bills that had cleared committees in their houses.  However, one thing seems clear: the state Assembly isn’t likely to take up a proposal to boost sparsity aid for small, rural school districts.

Indeed, Speaker Vos told Wispolitics.com that a sparsity aid package backed by Governor Scott Walker will not clear his house this session.

Assembly Republicans were successful in their push to add provisions to increase the low-revenue ceiling to the state budget bill.  The provisions aimed to help low-spending school districts by allowing them to collect more in property taxes without having to go to referendum.   However, Gov. Walker vetoed the measure due to concerns over the impact they could have on property tax bills.

Following his veto, the governor renewed his call for lawmakers to pump more state money into sparsity aid and held press events to tout a proposal authored by state Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Jeffrey Mursau (R-Crivitz).  The proposal, which has not yet been introduced, would mirror the sparsity aid package the governor included in his budget proposal.

Here are two maps showing which districts are affected by sparsity aid and which are affected by the low revenue ceiling.  (Note that there is relatively little overlap.)

In explaining his position, Vos noted the 2017-19 state budget makes a “historic” investment in public schools and pointed out Assembly Republicans had a different approach to helping rural districts than the governor.

“We’re not going to go back and re-argue all of the battles we had in 2017 in the spring of ’18,” Vos told Wispolitics, adding, “For the most part, that issue is put to bed and we’ll have the opportunity to come back in the next budget and discuss sparsity aid and low-spending school districts.”