State Government and Political Round-up: Gov. Walker submits budget to legislatureWisconsin News
-- Governor Scott Walker announced most, but not all of his major state budget proposals during the past few weeks. But did save some surprises for yesterday, when he submitted his two-year spending package to the Legislature and delivered a 40-minute speech about it.
MADISON - Governor Scott Walker announced most, but not all of his major state budget proposals during the past few weeks. But did save some surprises for yesterday, when he submitted his two-year spending package to the Legislature and delivered a 40-minute speech about it.
In a written budget summary, the Republican Walker said he wanted to end the practice of double-dipping by state-and-local public employees who retire, return to government work, and then collect both a pension-and-a-paycheck. The purpose is for the returnees to mind the store until their replacements get hired. But it became a bone-of-contention after a UW-Green Bay official joined many others who retired out of fear that Walker would cut into their pensions – only to come back to the same job later in a pre-arranged deal with his bosses. Under Walker’s budget measure, retirees would have to wait 75 days to return to government service instead of the present 30 days – and if they work more than two-thirds of a full schedule, they’d have to stop taking pension money and pay into the retirement system again. Also, Walker’s budget summary mentioned ways to make it easier for rent-to-own businesses to operate in Wisconsin. Lawmakers previously raised concerns about interest charges in those outfits. The governor did not give details of what he had in mind. Also, you can expect more surprises as journalists, special interests, and Walker opponents dig into the details of the $68-billion budget in the coming weeks.
State public school superintendent Tony Evers says the governor’s proposed budget does not help schools which are struggling to make ends meet. Evers says the Legislature should consider spending at least $225 more per student. Republican Governor Scott Walker did propose a one-percent increase in state school aid. But he refused to let schools automatically increase their revenue limits – and he’s giving the money to property taxpayers who will have the choice of giving it to their schools by approving revenue cap exemptions. On Tuesday, voters in nearly a half-dozen Wisconsin school districts approved such exemptions. Rhinelander voters agreed to give their schools an extra four-million-dollars over the next three years. Senate Democrat Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse said it should be up to the government to restore school funds that were cut two years ago. In her words, “It’s time to renew our commitment to our children’s future.” But Republicans say the state’s doing exactly that, by giving parents in districts with failing schools the option to use tax-funded vouchers to send their kids to private schools. Senate GOP finance chair Alberta Darling of River Hills said those children cannot wait. But other Republicans have problems with parts of the Walker school choice plan. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau said the package has quote, “a lot of moving parts” – but he believes some expansion will be passed.
Wisconsin’s public employees would no longer have to live in the communities they serve, under the governor’s budget package. Republican Scott Walker was expected to propose an end to residency requirements in Milwaukee. But in a surprise move, the Walker budget would wipe out residency mandates in all of Wisconsin’s city, village, town, and county governments – plus public school districts. Many places require employees to live where they serve, so they can be available at a moment’s notice for emergencies – and to know first-hand what their fellow taxpayers are living through. But many workers say it stifles their freedom. Residency mandates are not uniform throughout Wisconsin. In some places, only department heads must live in town. In Milwaukee, both the police and fire unions have been fighting to end a residency mandate for all city workers that goes back 75 years. Mayor Tom Barrett accused Walker of paying back both unions for supporting him in his previous two elections. And Barrett said the state budget should not be used to give favors to campaign donors. The mayor also said some of the homes that public employees leave could be left vacant – and that would add to an existing foreclosure crisis. The Journal Sentinel says the city government is now Milwaukee’s largest landlord, due mainly to thousands of foreclosures. Barrett says some of the vacant homes have become magnets for crime.
Over 700 more people would be added to the state government’s payrolls under the two-year budget that Governor Scott Walker submitted to the Legislature. The package includes new staffers for Wisconsin to comply with the Obama health care reform law – more engineers to replace more expensive private contractors – and additional tax auditors to get scofflaws to pay up. The Republican Walker proposes a one-percent increase to the state’s full-time workforce of just under 70-thousand, not including UW personnel. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington says he’s concerned about the number of new people the governor wants to bring in. He and Senate GOP finance chair Alberta Darling of River Hills also say the Walker budget has too much borrowing. Much of that is for the proposed half-billion-dollar increase in transportation projects. Walker wants to speed up the payback by selling off state-owned power-and-heating plants.
Governor Scott Walker highlighted his desire to cut taxes when he spoke to lawmakers last night about the new two-year state budget he asked them to approve. The Republican Walker proposes using a current surplus to give a 106-dollar income tax cut in each of the next two years to average families-of-four where both parents earn a total of 80-thousand-dollars a year. He also plans to reduce the bottom three of the state’s five income tax brackets. In his 40-minute budget address, Walker said he wanted to cut taxes every year he’s in office and quote, “I want to cut taxes over-and-over again until we are leading the country in economic recovery.” Lawmakers expect to rewrite parts of the budget before approving it in June. The governor also touted his budget plan expand private school choice – in which low-income kids get tax-funded vouchers to attend private schools in up to nine new areas that include Madison and Green Bay. Some Republicans are against it, and Walker has vowed to try-and-address their concerns. Public schools would get no increase in their state revenue limits. A small increase in state school aid would be given to property taxpayers, who would then decide in referendums whether schools deserve more money. Voters have been generous lately. Almost a half-dozen revenue cap exemptions were approved statewide on Tuesday. The budget includes small property tax hikes of less than one-percent a year.
The package also increases UW tax funding by $180-million – and interim Madison chancellor David Ward calls it the best budget in years for the university. But Democrats say Walker should have restored the school aid he slashed two years ago. They also said the governor is wrong not to take millions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid, and he should have done more to help the middle class. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) says Walker’s proposals are quote, “bad for the short term, and bad for the long term.”
The state Legislature’s finance committee will vote Monday on new mining regulations that would make it easier to open a proposed iron ore mine in far northern Wisconsin. The Joint Finance Committee is expected to endorse a Republican package of measures that would set deadlines for the approval of state mining permits and relax certain environmental rules. Monday’s vote would most likely send the package to both houses. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald expects the state Senate to take up the bill next Wednesday. Republicans want to help Gogebic Taconite create jobs by developing what would be the largest mine in state history in parts of Ashland and Iron counties. Democrats and environmentalists and the Indian tribes which live in the region are concerned about possible pollution and the ending of public challenges to DNR mining decisions.