Walker signs budget, pleas for unity
ASHWAUBENON - Governor Scott Walker issued a plea for unity yesterday when he signed the state budget for the next two years.
Speaking at a Green Bay area plant, the Republican Walker told about 100 people it's time to "turn the page" on divisiveness and quote, "find a way to move forward together to work for the people of this state." But Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said Walker's budget won't do that. He said it would enhance Walker's reputation as "the most polarizing governor in the nation."
The $66-billion-dollar budget takes effect Friday, with the goals of boosting Wisconsin's economy and leaving the state government in its best financial shape in over a decade. Walker did not make many changes, as he only vetoed about 50 items. The budget reduces state aid by almost a billion-dollars to public schools and local governments. It nearly freezes state-and-local taxes. It cuts business taxes and provides incentives for firms to locate and expand. And it closes not only the three-billion dollar deficit for the next two years -- it leaves a much smaller deficit than normal for the following budget. But Democrats and others said it was all done on the backs of the poor-and-the-middle class. The budget reduces or eliminates a number of health programs and tax credits for the poor. Walker said the budget makes quote, "tough choices while also providing a path to prosperity for our state and our people."
Walker's 50 budget vetoes was the smallest number in recent years. Democrat Jim Doyle struck down just over 80 items two years ago. Republican Tommy Thompson holds the record with 457 vetoes in 1991, when he had to contend with opposing Democrats in the Legislature. Doyle and Walker had no such obstacles. Walker reworked the budget to give UW Madison more financial flexbility -- though on a more limited basis than what he originally wanted. He also gave the administration more power to tighten restrictions on a family planning program that gives birth control to poorer teens as young as 15. Walker banned pensions for public employees unless they work five years-or-more for state and local governments. He increased the maximum amount for no-bid contracts throughout state government from $25,000 to $50,000. And Walker decided not to make people drive to Madison to see the ethics statements of their public officials. The governor had announced a few vetoes before yesterday. He rejected a return of private bail bondsmen, to make sure criminal defendants show up in court. He vetoed the paying of fired Milwaukee police officers while they appeal their dismissals. And he decided not to give a sales tax break on chewing tobacco. Among the controversial items Walker kept in the budget were a one-week delay to get unemployment benefits after applying -- a measure that could hurt small beer distributors from competing with larger ones in the future -- cuts in the Focus-on-Energy program, which gives incentives for using energy-efficient appliances -- and making it easier for credit unions to become banks.
Governor Walker does not believe a state budget item he signed yesterday will cause UW Hospital in Madison to lose its national accreditation for obstetrics-and-gynecology. Walker approved a measure from Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend. It would prohibit the UW's Health Care Authority from paying for abortions. Hospital vice president Carl Getto said last week the new measure might force the UW to stop offering abortion training for residents - and the OB-GYN accreditation requires residents to have access to experience with induced abortions. Wisconsin Right-to-Life called that a phony argument, and the group says it's glad Walker approved the budget measure. Walker said he strongly believes that tax dollars should not quote, "support the performance of elective abortions." The UW Hospital says it does not get state tax dollars, and abortions are not performed at university facilities. Students get abortion training at a Planned Parenthood facility.
Several hundred protestors showed up at Governor Scott Walker's budget-signing ceremony at Fox Valley Metal-Tech in Ashwaubenon yesterday. They cried "Shame" as invited guests entered the parking lot. And they held signs demanding a recall of Walker -- which cannot legally happen until next year. Green Bay electrician Lonnie Lapacz told the AP he's been following Walker around the state, to get in his face over the budget and the law which limits collective bargaining by most public unions. Lapacz said protestors would be in Walker's face constantly.